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Notre Dame Cathedral photo courtesy simon&vicki on flickr commons, some rights reserved

Cloches de Notre Dame - Bells of Notre Dame

     In some of my earlier posts I mentioned how nice it was to hear the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral pealing across Paris.  It's always been a part of life in Paris.  I wonder if the Parisians who were born in the city even notice the bells when they ring.  On the other hand, I immediately hear them, during the day, when they're rung on the hour or when they're rung for special celebrations and religious services.  
     Not many things, especially sounds, are constant across several hundred years.  Even in the middle of the night there are enough cars, ambulances, transport trucks and the occasional noctilien bus on the roads to keep Paris buzzing like any other metropolitan city.  Considering that Notre Dame was completed in the year 1345, when  the bells were rung for the first time, there were no motorized vehicles, no boat motors on the Seine, no air conditioners humming and no radios blasting.  Although there were horses pulling buggies across cobbled streets, it must have sounded almost silent in comparison to the cacophonous riot of sounds in Paris today.  When the bells begin to ring at Notre Dame, I can almost imagine how loud they must have sounded when the building was new and they were rung for the first time.
    
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courtesy lavork on flickr commons, rights reserved
This year, Notre Dame is celebrating its 850th birthday since ground was first broken in the year 1163.  In their preparation for the year-long jubilee celebration, the church (with a lot of financial help from French citizens, tourists, parishioners and private donors) has spent several years restoring and replacing lighting, restoring the pipe organ, cleaning the exterior, working on the towers and preparing them for brand new bells.  Many times over the centuries the bells have been added to and replaced whenever necessary.  During the French revolution, all but one bell was removed and melted to make weapons. Napoleon prevented them from destroying the largest bell.   Eventually bells were cast to replace the bells which were lost during the desecration of the cathedral during the revolution.  Since then, additional bells were added to a grand clock above the trancept to toll the hours. In ancient tradition, all of the bells have names. The bell which was saved and returned to the towers on the orders of Napoleon is called Emmanuel.  It is now over 300 years old and is considered by campanologists to be one of the nicest and most perfectly toned bells of its size in Europe.        There are a total of 20 bells between the towers and the spire.  Although Emmanuel has a wonderful tone, the same cannot be said of the other bells which do not have the quality nor tone of Emmanuel.  This year,  with the exception of Emmanuel, all new bells have been cast to replace the older, inferior bells.  Each of these bells has also been named.  They are named for the first bishop of Paris, The Pope, Gabriel the angel who announced the birth of Christ, Saint Anne the mother of the virgin Mary , previous cardinals, the bishop who ordered the original construction of Notre Dame, the first christian martyr and early Catholic saints.  The king of the bells will still be Emmanuel.  Although it will remain the largest bell, it will have a new partner. 
     If you think about our own Liberty Bell, you will understand the desire of the French historic monument commission to protect such an old and historic bell as Emmanuel  from being damaged and to make sure that it is preserved for future generations.   They have cast a second bell of the same size and tone to be hung in the same tower with Emmanuel.  It will be rung daily with the other bells so that Emmanuel can be reserved and rung only on days of great national and religious significance.  The new bell is named Marie in honour of the virgin Mary and as a nod to the first grand bell that was hung in Notre Dame in the late 1300s.  Although there are records of bells being rung from Notre Dame's towers even before the cathedral was completed, the first bell of such a large size as to be called a great bell was Marie.  It seems fitting that a new Marie will be in the tower to protect Emmanuel for the ages. 
     Below are photos of some of the bells which have been on display inside the cathedral since December for parishioners, donors and tourists to enjoy until they are installed in the towers.  They will be rung for the first time to celebrate Palm Sunday, 23 March 2013.   It is important to remember that Notre Dame is not just a monument.  It is a very active Catholic church. It is nothing less than amazing that they are able to do the massive amount of restoration, renovation and repair necessary to maintain such an old church which is still being used as a local church, the seat of the Archbishop of Paris, and host to over 14 million tourists per year.  Yes, I said fourteen million.  There is so much to write about the history of the cathedral and the events which took place within its walls, but this week I chose to focus on the bells. 
     Enjoy the photo's and be sure to click the final photo which is a link to hear a recording of what the bells would have sounded like a few centuries ago, and how they should sound when they ring again on Palm Sunday.  If you want to know more, you can visit the official site of the cathedral.  notredamedeparis.fr           Till next time, Mimi

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photo courtesy ibach on flickr commons (C)
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photo courtesy ibach on flickr commons (C)
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courtesy jeremie guillou on flickr commons (C) some rights reserved.

click photo below to hear how the bells will sound

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click to hear bells. courtesy of the official site of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.
 


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