Bell, Book, and Candle

bell, book, and candle: A reference to features of the solemn ritual of major excommunication, as performed in the medieval Church of Rome. The decree of anathema, the official curse of excommunication, was read from the book of church ritual; the attendant priests held candles, which were dashed to the ground, symbolizing the extinction of grace and joy in the soul of the accused; and a bell was tolled, perhaps to simulate the tolling for the dead.

The phrase bell, book, and candle appears in Shakespeare’s King John (III, 3): ‘Bell, book, and candle shall not drive me back/ When gold and silver becks me to come on.’ Here, as in general usage, it represents the power and authority of Christianity.

Bell, Book, and Candle (1950) is also the title of a play by John Van Druten (1901-57), about a beautiful present-day witch who falls in love with a man and loses her powers as a sorceress.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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