Although thieves stripped lead from the roof of an ancient church in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, UK last month, the bellringers still managed to toll their traditional Devil's Knell shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve.
Observing a 600-year-old custom, a team of sturdy bellringers sounds the bell once for every year since Christ's birth, supposedly to mark the Devil's departure from Earth. That means that this year, the bell chimed exactly 2006 times.
When we first heard of the Devil's Knell four years ago, we asked the then Team Rector of Dewsbury, Canon John Hawley (now Archdeacon of Blackburn) about the custom. "The Devil`s Knell will be tolled from approximately 9.45pm on Christmas Eve, to finish on the stroke of midnight," he said.
"In the 15th century a local knight, Sir Thomas de Soothill, in a fit of rage murdered a servant boy by throwing him into a mill pond. To expiate his crime he gave the tenor bell, Black Tom, requiring it to be tolled at his own funeral. It is now rung on Christmas Eve to signify that the First Eucharist of Christmas proclaims the defeat of evil."
The History of Dewsbury Church, reprinted for 2006, says:
Lauren Chadwick (pictured), a journalist who lives near the Dewsbury Minster (a church once associated with a monastery) reported theft of the lead in the local newspaper, the Dewsbury Reporter. She wrote:
Thieves seem to be versatile in Dewsbury. The day after the theft of lead from the church was reported, police warned local motorists to be on their guard after a number of thefts of satellite navigation systems in Dewsbury.
"The devices have become the latest target for thieves as drivers often leave them on display when cars are not in use," said the Dewsbury Reporter.
On December 15, the Dewsbury Reporter displayed a banner headline: RIVAL GANGS RIOT. It reported that eight men had been arrested in Thornhill Lees. According to onlookers the row seemed to have arisen from disputes between rival gangs of Iraqis and Pakistanis. One man was severely injured, cars and property were vandalised, and one witness called it a 'mini-riot'.
Another story headlined Move Minster and knock down the mills! said that European regeneration experts had suggested putting the Minster in the town centre as one of several radical ideas to transform Dewsbury.
Delegates from cities in Belgium, Hungary, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria had met to share ideas that could shape the town's future.
They suggested making use of the riverbanks, knocking down dilapidated mills, fencing and walls and building new housing to encourage people to live in the town centre.
Ah, those town planners! It's a wonder they didn't suggested letting Black Tom ring out 2007 times every day next year as a Devil's Knell tourist attraction.
Two weeks ago, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner invited people from three different backgrounds to tell its readers what Christmas meant to them.
Shahid Malik, MP [Member of Parliament] for Dewsbury, and a Muslim, said: