The Bells that Changed the Future

The Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul watches over the city of Brno in Czechia. Its towers are a fine example of Gothic Revival designs [1]. The bells within the towers remind us of an unusual, almost slap-stick legend that changed the course of the Thirty Years’ War.

A photo of the Tower of St Peter and St Paul - Brno, CzechiaThe Thirty Years War was one of the most destructive religious wars in Europe. It was a ‘Catholics vs Protestants’ war but many actors fought for territorial or political reasons. [4]

Swedish forces, led by Field Marshal Torstensson, [6] were undefeated in battle. In 1645, they besieged the Moravian capital of Brno and met fierce resistance.

The fighting continued for months. The Swedes were superior on the battlefield due to their technological prowess. [5] Yet they were growing weary and felt they could not continue for long. Hapsburg spies discovered that Torstensson had set himself a limit: they would retreat if Brno did not fall by noon on 15 August.

A photo of the interior of St Peter and St Paul's Cathedral - Brno, CzechiaArmed with this knowledge, the bells of St Peter and St Paul rang to indicate noon an hour early. It was still 11 o’clock but the Swedish army took this to mean that their self-imposed deadline had arrived. [1] [3] They packed up and left. Swedish forces returned to fight in the Battle of Prague in 1648, but the fighting in Moravia was over.


If the Swedish-led forces had won this battle, the Hapsburg empire would have been severely weakened. Attacks on Vienna and the rest of Hapsburg controlled Europe would have been more likely.
All parties had worked on negotiations during the war so the end result – the Peace of Westphalia – would have been similar.  However, Europe would not have had a large Austria-Hungary as a sovereign nation at the turn of the eighteenth century. Austria-Hungary has influenced modern European history, e.g. World War I started because Austrian arch-duke was assassinated.

This means the siege of Brno marks a significant turning point in European history.

To commemorate this victory, the bells of St Peter and St Paul continue to ring the noon chime at 11:00 instead of at 12:00 [2]


Does this story ring a bell? Any other crucial moment in history you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!


[1] Wikipedia, Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, 2016
[2] Atlas Obscura, Brno’s Astronomical Clock, (Retrieved 2017)
[3] Brno Tales and Legends,, 2012
[4], Thirty Years War, 2006
[5] Wikipedia, Thirty Years War, 2017
[6] Wikipedia, Lennart Torstensson, 2016

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