The Legend of the Bell Rock
This is a story of two brothers. One
took to religion, the other took to the sea. One became a monk, then a prior
and ultimately an abbot. The other, a sailor, a sea captain and eventually a
notorious pirate! For he was as wicked as his brother was good.
Although each was aware of the other’s
occupation, they had little personal contact. The Abbot prayed often for the
sea robber. Who, in turn despised his brother’s chosen calling and took every
opportunity to ridicule and embarrass him.
The Abbot was working in an abbey of a
small coastal town. The Abbot had become increasingly concerned about the
number of ships that were being wrecked upon a small rocky island just beyond
the Firth of Tay. The island was so small it was not well visible to the eye of
sailors, so many ships crashed into it.
“What could be done”, wondered the
Abbot, “to protect shipping and the lives of the sailors?” He called for a
meeting between ship owners and leading citizens of the town. After some
lengthy discussions, it was decided that a large bell be fixed onto the island.
The ringing of the bell in the wind would alert the crewmenaboard the vessels
of the dangers lying ahead.
In three months they had sufficient
funds with which to purchase a great bronze bell from a bell foundry in
Amsterdam. In a short time, the bell was in place on the island; hymns were
sung, prayers were said and the bell was blessed.
A banquet had been prepared to celebrate
the Abbot and the successful placement of the bell. The Abbot gave thanks for
God’s guidance. Many disasters would be averted and more importantly, lives
would be saved. The little rocky island became known to mariners as ‘The Bell
Meanwhile, far away in the warm climate
of the Mediterranean, the younger brother was robbing and pillaging ships and
towns along the Coast of North Africa. The news of his brother’s work he
greeted with scorn and disdain. He laughingly claimed that he put the fear of
God into more people in a month than the worthy Abbot would in his lifetime!
Nevertheless, he was irritated that the humble priest was receiving praise. He
planned to do something about it.
Six weeks later, the pirate ship, loaded
with booty, dropped its anchor in the firth near the Bell Rock island. The
captain rowed to the island with six of his crew. Once there, it took less than
ten minutes to unhook the bell and roll it into the sea! It sank silently,
disappearing below the waves. The captain gazed at the spot and said almost to
himself, “The next visitors to Bell rock island won’t be blessing the Abbot!”.
The next day, the captain was ready to
go back to the African Coast. This time the sea had a heavier swell, as they
sailed out of the firth, heading for the North Sea. The wind became stronger
and it began to rain. The crew was nervous and mostly silent. Although they
were rough and ready buccaneers, they were also superstitious. They were right
to be afraid.
As the storm grew in strength,
visibility was reduced to nil and control of the vessel became impossible.
Suddenly, with a grinding crunch, the ship came to a shuddering stop and
immediately lurched onto its side. They had hit the island! There had been no
warning bell; for had it not been rolled into the sea? Water poured over the
ship as it began to break up. The crewmen screamed in terror as they fell into
the waves. In a short time, there was nothing left of the ship or its crew,
save one lone survivor.
He had a strange tale to tell. He said
that he saw the captain disappear into the sea and at that very moment he swore
that he had heard the ringing of a bell; as though the Devil himself was
bidding the captain, “Welcome!” The bell was never replaced and it was not
until more modern times that a lighthouse was built on the rock. ‘The Bell Rock
Lighthouse’ has protected shipping ever since.
But even today, sailors will tell you
that when the sea in the Firth of Tay is rough, there are times that they can
hear the ringing of a bell. And when they look into the sky, they see a ghostly
sailing ship with one solitary figure pacing the deck!