London, Aug.13 : Few sounds are more characteristic of Italy than the peal of church bells from the local campanile, but traditionalists in Rome are lamenting the disappearance of the art of bellringing.
Rome has 585 churches and 1,500 bells - but nearly all are now being operated electronically, and some even play recorded chimes. Few have their bells pulled by hand any longer, reports The Times.
Father Mauro Manganozzi, who still rings the bells himself at the San Giuseppe da Copertino church, admits that the continuation of the traditional method is partly a question of cost.
"I don't think there's any money to install an automated system, even if we wanted one," the paper quoted him, as saying.
The great bells of St Peter's Basilica itself are rung by hand to mark liturgical festivals or papal elections and deaths.
Most churches, however, are supplied by the Rome diocese with computerised amplification sound systems which can ring the Angelus and play Christus Vincit for Easter or carols at Christmas. They are even programmed to "fade away" like real bells.
According to a diocesan official, the cost of installing new bronze bells has become prohibitive.
Fabio Giona, the president of the Italian Association of Bell Ringers, said that traditionalists were fighting a rearguard action.
There are in any case no bell foundries left in Rome to make them. The last one - the Pontificia Fonderia Lucenti, founded by Camillo Lucenti in 1550 in the Borgo, the cobblestoned medieval quarter next to St Peter's - closed down more than ten years ago.
The few remaining bell foundries left in Italy include the Marinelli papal foundry at Agnone, near Isernia, in the Molise region, which dates to medieval times.