This poem sequence was inspired by listening to writer and poet Gwyneth Lewis experiences in the Radio 4 documentary "A Voyage to Lundy", in particular when she describes the Church and the bells.
With the Atlantic Ocean to the West, and the Bristol Channel to the East, Lundy lies eleven miles from the nearest mainland off North Devon. The Island is three miles long and half a mile wide, and covers 1,100 acres.
The current church of St Helen’s built by the Revd Hudson Grosett Heaven has been a notable feature of the Lundy skyline since 1897, but the history of Christianity on the island dates back as early as the 6th century.
The population of the island at the time was around 60 and was often swelled by visiting seamen, which explains its size. It is built using granite from the island and other materials brought in from Ilfracombe. Lundy became known as the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.
There were eight bells. But the fittings for the eight church bells quickly corroded and the bells were taken down from the tower in the early 20th century. In 1994 they were restored and continue to attract many groups of visiting bellringers to Lundy. Two more bells were added in 2004.
But the original eight each had a unique inscription, and this poem is built around those inscriptions.
The Bells of Lundy
The Bell says: “I warn that the hour has now come for prayers”
Venus fading in the dawning day
Sunrise on sail in the Fastnet race
The bell calls for the hour to pray
Take shelter under wings of grace
The Bell says: “We all sing the praises of God”
Ding dong, hear this merrily on high
Across the years, the bell does ring
Praise to the Lord of the sea and sky
Come weary traveller, come and sing
The Bell says: “HGH, the Vicar, had us brought into being”
Reverend HGt Heaven wanted bells
Sounding across the sea and spray
Heard on beach, and in sea shells
A call to worship, a time to pray
The Bell says: “Charles Carr & Co. made us AD 1897”
Hot iron in foundry cooling down
Across the sea, the bell rings out
For those in peril, lest they drown
Safer passage through tidal doubt
The Bell says: “When rung confusedly we announce dangers”
The storm bell sounds, thunder roars
The wind is rising, the gales severe
Batten down hatches, keep in doors
The bell says have hope, never fear
The Bell says: “When rung backwards we signify fires”
Lightning streaking across the sky
Burning the land with deadly hand
Sailing ships blaze with St Elmo’s fire
Bell calls to judgement on the land
The Bell says: “Rung in the right way we proclaim joys”
The bell rings out on Easter morn
An end to darkness, time of trial
The empty grave,a golden dawn
Joy to the world, and Lundy Isle
The Bell says: “I say farewell to the departing souls”
Abide with me, setting of the sun
Darkness of death, liminal space
All passion spent, all things done
Lundy Isle bell: threshold of grace