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The meaning and origin of the expression: Bell, book and candle

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Bell, book and candle


The phrase that denoted excommunication from the Catholic church.


In the excommunication ceremony officials close the book, quench the candle and toll a bell, as for someone who had died. The phrase is old and first appears, in Old English, circa 1300:

"Curced in kirc an sal ai be wid candil, boke, and bell."

Shakespeare used the phrase in King John, 1595:

Bell, book, and candle shall not drive me back,
When gold and silver becks me to come on.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.