Country's biggest bell falls silent after elections

21-06-2002

And now, moving on to something lighter, but still connected - albeit tenuously - to the elections. As you've just heard, Czechs went to the polls a week ago, in an election which saw the Communist Party clinch their biggest share of the vote since 1989. Just four hours after the polling stations closed, however, a bell in Prague's St Vitus cathedral fell silent - which the more superstitious people of this country saw as an omen of impending doom. Dita Asiedu has more:

Zigmund bell, photo CTKZigmund bell, photo CTK At around 6pm last Saturday, as the polling booths were being dismantled and the ballot papers were being counted, the clapper of the famous Zigmund bell that tolls in Prague Castle's St. Vitus Cathedral broke off and came crashing to the ground. A mere accident to some, maybe, but for people who believe in superstitions - the sudden silence of the 500-year-old Zigmund bell was a terrible omen.

Legend has it that when such an important bell falls silent, it's a warning to the country that a catastrophe is about to take place. In the spring of 1939, the clapper of Poland's most famous bell - in Krakow Cathedral - broke and fell to the ground. Those expecting dark days did not have to wait long for the prophesy to come true - in September of that year, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, ushering in six years of terror and death.

And so some Czechs saw the silencing of the Zigmund bell as somehow connected to the Communists' strong showing in the polls. Others accused the right-of-centre Civic Democrats of tampering with the bell to cause panic among the population.

There was, of course, a more scientific explanation. Upon inspection, experts discovered faults in the half-tonne clapper, faults which had been there since it was fitted more than a century ago. It will now be up to Petr Rudolf Manousek, who has been caring for the St. Vitus Cathedral bells for years, to make a new clapper in his workshop. According to Mr Manousek, it will be several months before Zigmund is heard again.

"It definitely is not a matter of a week, I expect it to take about two to three months. It's not just about making a new clapper. First of all we have to take down the old one that is now in two pieces. Then we have to get the new clapper all the way back up. All of this will probably have to be done with the help of a crane and scaffolding in order to get to Zigmund. It certainly won't be an easy task."

21-06-2002