Bell-ringing and cannon salute

Academic celebrations are announced by the ringing of the great bell of Uppsala Cathedral. Another sound that makes the University stand out in Uppsala’s acoustic environment is the cannon salute at the Doctoral Degree Conferment Ceremony.

Ringing of the Uppsala Cathedral bell

Uppsala Cathedral and Gustavianum

When Uppsala University was founded in 1477, the Church and the University were intimately connected institutions. The University’s purpose back then was to educate priests. These days, the University’s links with the Church are gone, but one custom that remains to remind us of olden days is that the great bell of Uppsala Cathedral still rings for the University’s major academic celebrations.

The bell that rings on the occasion of academic celebrations in Uppsala is called Storan (‘the Great Bell’) and is the largest bell in Sweden, weighing seven tonnes. On days when the Doctoral Degree Conferment Ceremony or the Installation of Professors take place, the bell begins to ring at 08:00 and continues for ten minutes. The tradition of ringing the bell at 08:00 in the morning on the day of the Conferment Ceremony started in the 17th century. The bell rang while the procession made its way to the ceremony, regardless of whether the ceremony took place in a University building or in the Cathedral.

After the great fire of 1702, it was the University’s students who raised the (recast) Great Bell to its place in the northern tower of the Cathedral. In gratitude for this, the students were granted a perpetual right to have this bell ring at their funeral free of charge.

Cannon salute

People dressed in uniforms firing the cannon beside the Castle early in the morning.

Photo: Mats Hellmark

No records reveal precisely when the University started celebrating new doctoral graduates with a cannon salute, but we do know that the tradition has existed at least the beginning of the 19th century. As cannon salutes at major celebrations were common far earlier, they may have occurred in connection with conferment ceremonies even before that.

Who fires the cannons?

The cannons are fired by Jämtlands fältartilleri. This is a historical military culture association based in Östersund, which is associated with the Norrland Artillery Regiment. They have fired the cannon salute in Uppsala since 2006.

When is the salute fired?

The first cannon salute is fired from the Castle, beside the northern tower, at exactly seven o’clock in the morning. The number of shots reveals the number of faculties, jubilee doctors and honorary doctors participating in the ceremony that day.

During the afternoon, the cannons stand beside the southern gable of the University Main Building and are fired at certain points in the conferment ceremony. This means the salutes come at irregular intervals between about 12:50 and 15:00.