He cast a superb bell, and the Emperor was delighted with its tone. This outstanding worker in bronze, who was doomed all the same to a terrible fate, said to the Emperor: 'My Imperial master, order a great mass of copper to be delivered to me and I will refine it. Then, instead of tin, give me as much silver as I need, a hundred pounds at least. I will cast you such a bell that this one will seem dumb in comparison.' Charlemagne, who was the most open-handed of monarchs - if riches abounded, he set not his heart upon them - made no difficulty about ordering everything for which he had asked to be given to him. The rascally monk took delivery of the materials and left in great glee. He smelted and refined the bronze. Instead of the silver he used the purest tin and soon cast a bell much better than that made of adulterated metal, of which Charlemagne had nevertheless thought so highly. When he had tested the new bell, he presented it to the Emperor. Charlemagne admired the new bell very much for its exquisite shape. He ordered an iron clapper to be fixed inside and then had the bell hung in the bell-tower. This was soon done. The churchwarden, the other attendants in the church and even a number of boys who were hanging about strove, one after the other, to make the bell ring. None of them succeeded. In the end the monk who had cast the bell and perpetrated this outrageous fraud came over in a rage, seized hold of the rope and tugged at the bell. The mass of metal slipped from the centre of its beam and fell down on the rogue's head. It passed straight through his dead carcase and crashed to the ground, taking his bowels and testicles with it. When the mass of silver of which I have told you was discovered, Charlemagne in his justice ordered it to be distributed among the poor of his palace.


Notker the Stammerer (Monk of Saint Gall), Charlemagne, from: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, translated by Lewis Thorpe, Penguin Classics, Great Britain, 1969, p. 126-127.

PLACE: Carolingian Empire

TIME: 8th century

CIRCUMSTANCE: The story of Tancho the bell-caster, who had formerly been a monk at Saint Gall.