For whom the bell tolls

Deceased Kampala Arch-diocese Archbishop Dr Cyprian Lwanga (Inset) and the Rubaga Cathedral; a place familiar with his reign as Archbishop since 2006. PHOTO/COMBO/NMG/KAMPALA CITY GUIDE 

What you need to know:

  • It’s a constant reminder that death is not far away for any of us, no matter what we might think.

At exactly 12:23pm on April 3, the bell at Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala was sounded until 1:30pm, signifying something had happened in the Church. 

To those that are familiar with the Church tradition, it sent shivers down their spine. Yet many young people might not have known the significance of the sound. Here it is. 

In the Catholic Church, bells represent the voice of God and remind us of the existence of Heaven. Without modern means of communication, the church bells were also used as a clock and as a fire or flood alarm. 

Important message
When they rang out at unusual times, they announced a death. This type of ring, called the “death-knell”, is composed of three rings for each bell, three times for a man and twice for a woman, followed by a pealing of the bells. Both ring out three times, and the death-knell is repeated noon and night until the funeral.
A death knell doesn’t always sound like a regular church bell. 

The interior of the prestigious Rubaga Cathedral. PHOTO/COURTESY

Hurting sound
The sound of this death knell feels haunting for many, especially since it’s a distorted version of a church bell chime. The practice of ringing a death knell dates back to the 16th century.

The specifics surrounding how death knells were to be practiced were written into England Canon Law by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. 
From there, it was used in local communities as a way for the church to inform others of someone’s soon demise or recent passing. 

1960s diaries
During the plague, it wasn’t uncommon for the death knell to ring frequently.
One person notes in their diary in July of 1665 about their sad feelings when they hear this sound. 

They write, “It was a sad noise to hear our bell to tell and ring so often to-day either for death or burials; I think five or six times.”

It’s a constant reminder that death is not far away for any of us, no matter what we might think. The tolling of this bell would be heard at all hours of the day or night. Death truly stops for no one.

Dr Lwanga's burial plans
Monday, April 5: Mass at Rubaga Cathedral at 2pm

Tuesday:  Mass at   Kyabakadde (Lugazi Diocese) starting at midday 

Wednesday: Funeral mass at Namugongo Catholic Shrine starting at 10am .

Thursday: Burial at Rubaga 

Compiled from various sources.