LAUSANNE (Reuters) – In Lausanne, a Swiss city on the shores of lake Geneva, the coronavirus outbreak has revived a tradition of centuries past: The cathedral watchman climbs the 153 stone steps to his tower at night, puts on a black hat, lights a lantern and rings the “La Clemence” bell to stir residents’ solidarity and courage.
It’s a practice dating back to the Middle Ages, when watchmen at Lausanne Cathedral kept a vigil over the city and rang the bell if they spotted a fire.
“We can compare this pandemic to a worldwide fire that has spread at lightning speed on all continents,” Renato Hausler, one of the last cathedral watchmen in Europe, told Reuters.
“It was also considered an encouragement, more than a distress signal, everybody was hearing it and it brought unity with residents fighting the fire.”
Since last week Hausler has been ringing “La Clemence”, the 16th-century bell, nearly every night, and calling out the hours from 10pm to 2am.
Switzerland’s death toll from the novel virus has risen to nearly 500 and the total confirmed infections approach 20,000.
Hausler wants to “keep people awake with regards to what is happening, to stay focused”.
Reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Pravin Char