Notre-Dame de Paris to change its bells!

From The Guardian:


Notre Dame's famous Emmanuel bell - not one of those being replaced - rings in the south belltower of the Paris cathedral. Photograph: Peter Barritt/Alamy

Ding dang … Notre Dame moves to scrap out-of-tune bells

Paris cathedral’s move to replace its old bells with new ones for its 850th anniversary fails to chime with heritage lobby

Their names sound pretty enough – Angélique-Françoise, Antoinette-Charlotte, Hyacinthe-Jeanne and Denise-David – but the noise they make together has been described as “discordant” and enough to drive Quasimodo deaf all over again.

Some have gone as far as to call them cheap, old and ugly.

Thus, there were expected to be few tears shed when the four bells, whose tolling has marked the march of time and a funereal adieu for the great and good at Notre Dame cathedral for 156 years, were taken from their belfry and consigned to the scrapheap.

Made and hung in 1856 to replace those torn from the cathedral during the French Revolution and melted down to make cannon – a fate that befell 80% of France’s church bells at the time – they were, declared the French campanologist and music expert Hervé Gouriou, “one of the most dreadful sets of bells in France … damaged and badly tuned”.

To mark the cathedral’s 850th anniversary next year, a new set of eight bells, intended to recreate the sound of the 18th-century bells made famous by Victor Hugo’s fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame, are being struck at a foundry in Normandy.

Now, however, dozens of cultural associations from France and abroad and at least one religious group have been going like the proverbial clappers to stop the bells being destroyed.

Father Alain Hocquemiller, the prior of a religious community in Normandy, went as far as to bring in the bailiffs to serve a legal notice to save them. He claims he was prompted to act after learning of plans to declassify the bells and melt them down for scrap.

Under a law dating back to 1905, Notre Dame belongs to the French government, which gives the Catholic church the exclusive right to use it, so the bells, which weigh between 767kg and 1.91 tonnes each, belong to the state.

“I consulted a lawyer who told me it was the gratuitous destruction of France’s religious heritage and that’s not allowed by law,” Hocquemiller told reporters.

The four grandes dames are currently at the French bell foundry Cornille-Havard, which is making the new bells using medieval methods, including pouring bronze into moulds made from clay, horse manure and horsehair. They will be named after eight important figures in French history, with the design reflecting their namesakes.

Notre Dame’s great south tower bell, the 13-tonne Emmanuel installed in 1685 and widely considered the most remarkable in Europe – which rang for the coronation of kings and to mark the end of the two world wars – was cut down by revolutionaries, but escaped destruction and was rehung on the orders of the Emperor Napoleon in 1802.

Father Patrick Jacquin, rector and archpriest at Notre Dame, told Le Parisien newspaper: “Forty cultural organisations have requested the dilapidated bells, but they don’t belong to the church. End of story.

“The bells are not for sale, not for destruction, not for melting down. On 2 February 2013 we will unveil eight new bells that will be blessed. Everything we have done has been in the open, nothing is hidden.”

He added: “This isn’t the first time the cathedral is the theatre for stories and fantasies, but given the choice, I prefer those of Victor Hugo.”

Did you that the blessing of a bell is not, traditionally, not like other blessings.  It is far more complex.  It is usually done by a bishop.  It is actually referred to as a “baptism”.  Bells are given names, like people. They speak with a voice.

In the Roman Ritual there is a blessing for any old bell.  Bells for church use are consecrated with a rite in the Roman Pontifical.  Here is one of the blessing prayers from the Roman Ritual:

The priest puts incense into the thurible, and sprinkles the bell with holy water while walking around it. While he does so the choir sings the Asperges. Then he incenses it, again walking around it, as the choir sings the following antiphon (for the music see the music supplement):

Antiphon: Lord, let my prayer come like incense before you.

Then the celebrant continues:

Let us pray.

O Christ, the almighty ruler, as you once calmed the storm at sea when awakened in the boat from the sleep of your human nature, so now come with your benign help to the needs of your people, and pour out on this bell the dew of the Holy Spirit. Whenever it rings may the enemy of the good take flight, the Christian people hear the call to faith, the empire of Satan be terrified, [Can you imagine a phrase like that in the dreadful, watered-down Book of Blessings?] your people be strengthened as they are called together in the Lord, and may the Holy Spirit be with them as He delighted to be with David when he played his harp. And as onetime thunder in the air frightened away a throng of enemies, while Samuel slew an unweaned lamb as a holocaust to the eternal King, so when the peal of this bell resounds in the clouds may a legion of angels stand watch over the assembly of your Church, the first-fruits of the faithful, and afford your ever-abiding protection to them in body and spirit. We ask this through you, Jesus Christ, who live and reign with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

All: Amen.
P: To the honor of St. N.

All: Amen.

If the bell is for a consecrated church, there is a Rite in the Roman Pontifical.

Also, here is something from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Points of law

In medieval England it was distinctly laid down that the church bells and ropes had to be provided at the cost of the parishioners. The canon law assumed that cathedral had five or more bells, a parish church two or three, while the churches of the medicant orders, like public oratories, were originally limited to one. The solemn ceremony of benediction provided in the Pontifical can only be carried out by a bishop or by a priest specially empowered, and it is only to be employed in the case of bells intended for church use. For other bells, a simpler blessing is provided in the “Rituale”. Numerous prohibitions exist against the church bells being used for “profane” purposes, e.g. for summoning meetings or for merely secular festivities and in particular for executions. In Catholic ecclesiastical legislation the principle is maintained that the control of the bells rests absolutely with the clergy. In cathedral churches according to the Cermoniale Episcoporum” this jurisdiction is vested in the Sacrista. Theoretically, the actual ringing of the bells should be performed by the ostiarius and in the conferring of this minor order the cleric is given a bell to ring, but for centuries past his functions have everywhere become obsolete, and lay bell-ringers have been almost exclusively employed. Finally, we may note a decision of the secular courts given in an action brought against the Redemptorists of Clapham, England, in 1851, whereby an injunction was granted to restrain these Fathers from ringing their bells at certain hours, at which, as it was complained, such ringing caused unreasonable annoyance to residents in the neighbourhood.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Phil_NL says:

    The article misses a few details.

    At least one of the bells, a 6000 kilo (12000+ pound) one, was cast in the Netherlands in September, by Koninklijke Eijsbouts (name of the firm) in Asten. And there was quite a bit of ceremonial, partly in latin, and with – if my eyes didn’t deceive me during the 40-second news-item – at least one bishop.

    I’ll try to dig up some youtube footage, though I can’t guarantee there is any.

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    “In Catholic ecclesiastical legislation the principle is maintained that the control of the bells rests absolutely with the clergy.”

    “Under a law dating back to 1905, Notre Dame belongs to the French government, which gives the Catholic church the exclusive right to use it…”

    Today’s puzzle: One if these sentences does not follow. For a prize of 4 clangs on the bell at the next meeting of Chickens United, readers, can you spot the imposter?

    Hint: Cathedral bells are baptized.

    The Chicken

  3. An American Mother says:

    Of course no post on bells could be complete without the obligatory reference to The Nine Tailors.
    Although it is nominally Anglican, the bells of course predate the reformation. Besides, it’s a roaring great read:
    “Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells-little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.”

  4. Church bells are silenced in today’s society or replaced by fake electronic sounds because the very sound of baptized/blessed church bells penetrate the soul and contribute to conversion of heart – similar to the effect of the voice of a priest.

    I can’t remember the last time I have heard the pealing of real church bells – around here Homeowners Associations and town councils forbid the ‘nuisance’.

    The Evil One definitely hates church bells.

  5. Phil_NL says:

    This bell, ‘Mary’, was the largest of the 9 new ones, and the only one not cast in France, with a rather low tone, designed to bridge the gap between the 1685 one and the rest of the new ones.

    As for the videos, nothing in english, sadly, but both links (to the Dutch press) have short movies in the upper right corner.

    At least two (according to some sources from three countries, so that would mean 3 or more) bishops were present, both from Paris and the local ordinary (Bp Hurkmans). In one of the videos one can spot a ‘livre des benedictions’, which may indicate the watered down version, or maybe not. The Mass the bishops said prior to the casting in a nearby church was, as far as I can ascertain, an NO partly in French, partly in Latin.

    I suppose that if someone is really interested, more digging would eventually produce a lot more footage.

  6. An American Mother says:

    Tina in Ashburn,
    In her forward to The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers notes that modern society ignores the “wailing of the jazz band and the roar of the internal combustion engine” to suppress the one loud noise that is to the glory of God . . . .

  7. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    As one involved frequently in church restoration, there is always a nay-sayer, however good and well-considered the plan (as here at Notre-Dame). Many of the objectors will certainly never go to Mass! What in England we call “retired-colonel-syndrome”.

    You missed a detail for the blessing of bells: they also have godparents. In rural France and Germany where ancient bells survive, it is not unknown for the names of the godparents of mediaeval bells to still be known (often they are cast in), so you can still pray for them by name! As the young say – how cool is that?!


  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    Wasn’t there an office of bell-ringer?

  10. Rushintuit says:

    The Bells of Saint Mary’s is my favorite!

  11. lucy says:

    Oh, to hear real bells once again!

  12. teomatteo says:

    curious… how much would a set of …. 5 (lets say) bells cost… installed, the works? $200,000? 300,000? more? Imported from India? china? just wondering…

  13. disco says:

    Pope Benedict should dispatch Cardinal Burke to Paris to properly consecrate the new bells, post haste!

  14. @An American Mother
    Ah the irony of modern-day priorities. Great jazz and heavy-beat-infested music, that can summon evil spirits or stir up the lower emotions of man, while holy sounds are suppressed.

  15. Lamentably Sane says:

    I was in Paris in August and went to Notre Dame, of course, and there happened to be a Mass going on, so quietly looked around along with hundreds of other tourists. The I heard the priest say ‘Please stand now. You are going to hear the Lord’s Prayer in the language that Our Lord spoke, Aramaic’. Then there was this warbling, wailing voice singing something or other. I assume it was the Lord’s Prayer, but frankly it could have been ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ for all anyone knew. Well, to me that summed up the whole thing. The vernacular is now so boring for modern Catholics that they have to draft in some exotic language that literally no one there understands in order to spice things up – as long as it ain’t Latin.

  16. An American Mother says:

    Lamentably sane,
    Perhaps he was a Maronite priest? They do say at least part of the Mass in Aramaic, and they always have.

  17. DavidR says:


    Mrs. Fleming’s finest, IMHO. To be read again and again. I understand she worked quite extensively at the study of campanology.

    A good day to you.

  18. DavidR says:


    We attended a Maronite in Raleigh; a good bit of it was in Aramaic.

    Fascinating to hear the words Jesus spoke.

  19. DavidR says:

    Should be Maronite Mass; preview is one’s friend.

  20. pelerin says:

    What is being referred to in the French press as ‘The War of the Bells’ still does not seem to be resolved. According to one report it was agreed in July that the Prior of Riaumont in Northern France could have the bells for a new church under construction. Then later the Rector of Notre Dame is quoted as saying that they must be destroyed. The metal would be melted down to make little bells to be sold to raise money for the new bells. (Strange as elsewhere one can read that the money for the new bells has already entirely been funded by donations)

    A ‘tradi’ site thinks that the Rector has done this because he does not want them to go to a ‘tradi’ church. Reports are differing so it is hard to tell what is happening here.

    Incidentally the bells in dispute which may not have long to go were ‘baptised’ Angelique-Francoise; Antoinette-Charlotte; Hyacinthe-Jeanne; Denise-David.

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