French town holds referendum on ‘annoying’ church bells

Church bells could stop ringing at night in French town of Ceyrat
Church bells could stop ringing at night in French town of Ceyrat. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP
Residents of a district of a town in France's central Auvergne region were this week voting on a local issue with resonance - should the church bells be allowed to chime at night.

The controversy began in spring when a newcomer to the town of Ceyrat expressed unhappiness with the half-hourly chimes day and night, saying he had counted a total of 600 chimes and complaining they were too loud.

A petition and then counter-petition were signed leading to the vote from Monday through Friday.

“Are you in favour of the church bells stopping at night?” is the question that will be put to hundreds of residents living with earshot of the church in Ceyrat.

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The vote ordered by mayor Anne-Marie Picard will decide if the church bells go silent between 10pm and 7am in the district of Boissejour, Christophe Serre of the town hall told AFP.

“Each household – some 300 people – will have the right to a vote and the mayor will obey the result after the counting in the presence of a bailiff to avoid any dispute,” he said.

Polling stations have been set up at the post office, the town hall and the school canteen.

The town’s newcomer launched a petition to demand the chimes end but then a counter petition won some 300 signatures for them to stay.

Serre said that the frequency of chimes was regulated by municipal decree and “given the differences of opinion the mayor wanted the opinion of citizens”.

There have been numerous cases in recent years of strains between the traditions of rural France and city-dwellers, who have a second home in the countryside but a lower tolerance for some of its sights, smells and sounds.

In the most famous case, a cockerel called Maurice rose to national fame after his dawn cock-a-doodle-doos so annoyed a couple with a holiday home in western France that they took the owner to court.

Maurice the cockerel died in 2020 but lived to see the legal complaint against him rejected.

In 2021 a law was passed giving legal protection to rural noises and smells including roosters crowing, cowbells and the smell of manure.

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