Paris: To Notre-Dame with Love
By Theadora Brack
Thanks to the courageous firefighters and emergency workers, Notre-Dame’s 18th century Grand Organ was rescued—with all of its 8,000 pipes still intact, we think. “None of the pipes have appeared to collapsed,” organ builder Bertrand Cattiaux told The New York Times. “We can just cross our fingers and wait.”
The bell towers were also saved. I’m still waiting for an update on my bells.
Did you know they have names?
Meet the bells
As part of the Notre-Dame’s 850th birthday fête back in 2013, nine new bells were introduced: Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Geneviève, and Gabriel, along with six-ton Marie. Using medieval casting techniques, eight of them were broken free from their molds at the Cornille Havard Bell Foundry in Normandy.
Cast as a diva from the start, grand bell Marie was cast in the Netherlands.
These shiny new bells replaced Napoleon’s 19th century bells (Angélique-Françoise, Antoinette-Charlotte, Hyacinthe-Jeanne and Denise-David), which had never quite been on pitch. The oldest Bourbon bell (13-ton Emmanuel, a deeply resonant and accurate F-sharp) survived both the French Revolution and the recent turnover. Created in the 15th century, Emmanuel is located in the south tower, where he still supports the newbies—restoring the 17th century pealing in harmony.
Without fail, since 1856, the bells of Notre-Dame have rung every fifteen minutes. They also rang to mark the end of World War I and the liberation of Paris in 1944.
Down through the years
For the love of Quasimodo, these great chimes have always inspired me. So yesterday, I reached for my tattered copy of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris.
After all, we have Victor’s keen vision to thank for the cathedral’s previous renovation in the 19th century, which followed the 1831 publication of the novel, and preserved it up till now. A “vast symphony in stone” he wrote, jump-starting the sightseeing frenzy and inspiring mobs of visiting fans to pay homage with copies of his book in hand.
Here’s a favorite passage
Without a doubt the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is, even today, a majestic and sublime edifice. Though it has preserved a noble mien in aging, it is difficult to suppress feelings of sorrow and indignation at the countless injuries and mutilations which time and man have wrought upon this venerable monument between the time of Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, and that of Phillip-Augustus, who laid its last.
On the face of this old queen of French cathedrals, beside each wrinkle you also find a scar . . . This central, mother-church is a sort of chimera among the other old churches in Paris; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the back of a third—something from every one . . . Notre-Dame is a structure of transition.
Symphony in stone
Yes, the Notre-Dame Cathedral will survive. Paris will survive. Don’t forget, the city’s heraldic symbol is a boat on waves surrounded by a motto that says something to the effect that no matter how rough it gets, she keeps on floating, “Fluctuat nec mergitur!” A 14th century mantra: “Tossed by the waves but never sunk!”