Why you won’t be hearing church bells much in France for a few days

A trip to Rome, a visit to the Vatican, and lots of chocolate eggs: Where the bells go at Easter

A view of a bell in an old church tower in France
The bells go quiet over Easter in France as they take a quick trip to Rome
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Church bells have a tendency to stop ringing in France over the Easter period, leading to the phrase “the bells are returning from Rome” being said on Easter Sunday. But why?

You might hear people saying "Les cloches reviennent de Rome” on Easter Sunday, which may seem a strange way to describe heavy, metal bells that are unlikely to have packed their bags for a few days in the Italian capital.

However, if a children’s tale is to be believed, the bells do - in fact - jet off on their holidays at Easter.

The phrase dates back to a long-standing ban on the ringing of bells between Maundy Thursday (the Thursday of the Easter Holy Week) and Easter Sunday, as a sign of mourning and respect to the time that elapsed between Christ's death and resurrection.

During this time, children were traditionally told that the bells stopped ringing because they flew off to Rome, where the Pope would bless them, before they returned to their churches in time for Sunday.

The bells were even said to have been given a pair of wings or ribbons to help their journey, and some were even said to be carried to Rome and back on a blessed chariot.

Once they return safely home to their steeples and towers, the bells ring again on Easter Sunday morning, to signal the Easter church services of celebration. Hence the phrase about “returning from Rome”.

The legend goes that the bells even return loaded with chocolate Easter eggs, which they then scatter in local gardens for children to find.

A trip to Rome, a visit to the Vatican, and a bag full of chocolate? Sounds like a good Easter break to us.

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