Under Pummerin’s Tower

I have heard Pummerin three times, once at midnight on Christmas Eve, and twice on Corpus Christi. The first time, I was well away from Stephansdom, St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. The second time I stood, then walked, directly below the north tower, where Pummerin and the other bells hang.

Most church bells today are rung from beside, and are no longer free-swinging. This is in part because people no longer care to hear very loud bells every hour, and more often during church services or on feast days. It is also because of the structural stress on old buildings. Pummerin still swings freely, and it is loud, especially when you are right below its tower.

The south, Gothic tower after a storm. Author Photo.

Pummerin is the third-largest free-swinging bell in Europe, and the fifth-largest in the world. It is tuned to C, but has fascinating overtones that produce a chord as you move around it. You also feel the sound in your bones and through the stones of the square around the cathedral. The bell goes back to 1684, and has been cast twice, both times using brass from the Ottoman cannons captured after the Second Siege of Vienna. When the cathedral took a direct hit in WWII, Pummerin dropped and broke. It was re-cast using the original bell, plus a few remaining trophy cannons from the Military History Museum.

Pummerin means “the big banger” in Viennese dialect, and you can hear why below. Note that it “warms up” to ring. The tower is a little fragile, and the bell old, so it begins swinging slowly, and only reaches full sound after a few swings. The ring begins about a minute into the video. I recommend turning the volume down a little at first.

The following shows Pummerin getting a new clapper. They can’t bring it up the stairs, so…

Pummerin only rings a few times a year, and the feast of Corpus Christi is the one time it rings twice: at the beginning of the procession up Kärtner Straße, and at the start of mass. I had no idea it rang on Corpus Christi, and so coming around the corner into the square as the tolling began was quite a surprise. It drowned out the other church bells.

At Christmas Eve midnight, all the bells in Vienna ring, and Pummerin cuts under them, supporting them. It is an awe-inspiring sound. When Pummerin rings, the other bells at Stephansdom are silent. When they ring, Pummerin keeps silent.

5 thoughts on “Under Pummerin’s Tower

  1. Fascinating overtones indeed!
    Question: does the bell attract cats in person, or just via YouTube? Two of the three household cats came to investigate while it was ringing.

    • Just via YouTube, although there were so many people in the cathedral square that any wise cats would have fled to avoid getting stepped upon.

  2. I am now impressed by my phone’s speakers. The bloody thing was shaking as violently as if it were on the vibrate setting and I was being besieged by telemarketers.

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