St. Sepulchre's Execution Bell – London, England - Atlas Obscura

London, England

St. Sepulchre's Execution Bell

On the eve of a condemned prisoner's death, this bell rang 12 times outside their cell. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the expression, “For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” This bell at London’s St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate is the physical embodiment of that saying.

At midnight on the eve of a condemned man’s execution (though it would not toll for murderers), the bellman of St. Sepulchre’s Church rang this bell 12 times outside the person’s cell. As the prisoner was led out of Newgate Gaol and across the street while being taken to Tyburn Tree to be hanged, the following lines were read out:

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die. Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near, that you before Almighty God will appear. Examine well yourselves, in time repent, that you not to eternal flames be sent, and when St Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, the Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

The convict was then given a set of rosary beads in the hopes that they would repent their sins as they were led to the gallows. This custom began in the 17th century and continued for the next 200 years. There are references to the Bell in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Know Before You Go

The bell is in a glass case on a pillar to the left facing the altar. As St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate is a functioning church, it is advisable to check the website for its current opening hours. 

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