An MIT Alumni Association Publication

MIT Guild of Bellringers Keeps America’s Oldest Bells Going

  • Julie Fox
  • Slice of MIT
  • 1

Filed Under

If you’ve ever walked through Boston’s North End, you’ve probably seen the Old North Church or heard its ringing bells. Cast in 1744, the bells are said to be the oldest in North America, and they are still rung by hand thanks to a dedicated group of MIT affiliates—the MIT Guild of Bellringers

The guild, which has been the steward of the Old North Church’s bells since the 1970s, practices a 1,000-year-old style of bell ringing called change ringing that started in the English countryside to call people to church. Change ringing involves multiple bells each rung by one individual to create a series of patterns, not songs. 

“It takes skill… and it takes very good timing and working as a team to get the ringing to sound good and feel good,” says Danielle Morse ’02. “Change ringing is a band activity. It's one person per bell. And just like any other band, you have to have rhythm. You have to know what you’re doing. You have to work together as a team.” 

It’s no surprise that MIT has a hand in this hobby because there is actually a lot of math involved. “The patterns, the methods are like a sequence of instructions,” says Kathryn Lesh PhD ’88.

And, as MIT PhD student Abigail Timmel says, there are rules about how the permutations are generated: “We like to ring some number of permutations without repeating any. And when you get up into thousands of permutations, it takes some math to figure out whether that’s possible, what sort of conditions you need for that to be possible and to actually realize it.”

Learn more about the MIT Guild of Bellringers in this MITAA video

Filed Under


Jeanne Courter

Sat, 01/20/2024 2:00pm

I learned to ring the changes at the Old North Church with the MIT Guild of Bell Ringers during IAP in 1976 and continued ringing throughout graduate school. I always loved the great sound of the bells. I am so happy to hear that the Guild is working on a method named for Beryl Nelson - she was a great person and a good friend. I had forgotten that I rang in the first quarter peal of the guild (shown in the beautiful cross-stitch) so it was fun to see that. After MIT I rang actively for another 20 years. Thanks MIT for introducing me to this wonderful activity and community.
Jeanne Courter Course III (G'81)