No Bell Peas Prize
What’s the sitch with the origins of the Nobel Peace Prize?
This is the first in a series of sitches called "origins," where our experts break down the origins of a phrase, event, concept, etc... without doing any research, as per our modus operandi.
Nobel Peace Prize. Nooobelllll Peeaaassse Priizzzee. Nooo Belllll Peeese Priizze. No Bell Peas Prize. Sound it out people. The No-Bell. Peas. Prize. This pinnacle of human achievement began as a modest award given to one brother per year in a small monastic community, near the Saxon (?) region of Europe, in the mid to late 1100s.
The head monk at this monastery was very sensitive to loud noises. He had been accidentally hit in the head by the back hoof of a panicked plow-ox while planting peas. His injury left him with terrible migraines brought on by bright lights and loud noises. In this peaceful community the condition hadn’t been a serious problem, as evidenced by the fact that he had become the bossman monk.
The only time of the week he was truly affected was when the massive bronze bells rang in the community chapel, signaling it was time for worship. This really troubled him, as these were meant to be a joyous sound; monks fucking love to worship.
He decided to elicit help from his fellow brothers in the form of a contest. Whomever could devise a method for signaling worship time without ringing the bells would win. The prize would be a bushel of peas, as that was what he was farming at the time of his injury, and because a whole bushel of sweet peas was actually a very valuable and generous reward at the time.
When the contest was announced, all of the most motivated monks jumped at the opportunity to win a bushel of peas. They got fast to work, sketching out schemes, jotting down ideas, brainstorming, workshopping, etc. Many quickly realized… this was a pretty goddamned easy problem to solve.
When the day to announce the winner came, the head monk was torn. There were a handful of ideas that would work just fine, none really being a clear standout. Have a large flag fly over the chapel instead of ringing the bells. Start a controlled signal fire in the chapel tower. Ask God to tell them when it was time to worship. Do it at the same time every day, such as when the sun came up or went down. Have a runner come and tap each monk on the shoulder when it was time (it was a pretty small monastery). Get quieter bells. Et cetera.
The head monk only had one bushel of peas, and really could care less which method they used as long as he no longer suffered migraines. He decided to use the flag idea, but share his peas with each monk who had tried to help.
Now, none of the monks in the competition were satisfied with this outcome. The flag-idea guy was obviously upset, as his idea was chosen yet he didn’t get the agreed upon prize. Monks with the other ideas were upset because they believed their solutions were just as valid. “Now we need someone to raise the flag every day?” exclaimed the monk with the idea to worship based on the setting sun. “Now we have to look up into the sky at the correct time?” said the monk with the idea to have a runner inform the community. “What the hell is a flag?” said one of the more uninformed monks (remember it was the 1100s; flags were relatively new technology).
The group of monks all began shouting over one another to get their point heard. This is exactly what the head monk had hoped to avoid! The competition, which was meant to eliminate moments of extreme volume, had devolved into a chaotic yelling match. He grabbed his head as a migraine came on, yelling, “Enough!!” as loud as his pious monkly vocal chords would allow.
The surrounding brothers were concerned for their leader and ashamed by their collective outburst. They were monks after all. One stepped up and suggested, “I vote the prize goes to the most peaceful member of the brotherhood, the one who does the most to reduce argument and conflict within the community.” All of the monks agreed, both because it was a decent idea, and to show the top-dog monk that they were sorry.
They had a huge feast of sweet peas that night, one that would be sang about by the bards for centuries in the Saxon-ish region of the world. Even the dogs were full of sweet peas by morning. The monks decided to award a bushel of peas on the same date the following winter to the brother who had engendered the most peace and serenity that year. They declared it the, "No-Bell Peas Award.”
The award quickly spread to nearby monastic communities, followed soon after by the rest of Europe. It was changed from an ‘Award’ to a ‘Prize’ a couple centuries later; this rolled off the medieval tongue better. Finally, a slimy chump named Alfred Nobel pushed the words together, dropped an L, changed the spelling of ‘Peas,’ and what we have now is “The Nobel Peace Prize.”
It is amazing such a prestigious award had such humble beginnings.