News / Europe

Finally in Tune, Notre Dame Bells Ring in Palm Sunday

Onlookers witness the delivery of Notre Dame's new bells, Paris, January 31, 2013.Onlookers witness the delivery of Notre Dame's new bells, Paris, January 31, 2013.
x
Onlookers witness the delivery of Notre Dame's new bells, Paris, January 31, 2013.
Onlookers witness the delivery of Notre Dame's new bells, Paris, January 31, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is ringing in this Palm Sunday with a set of newly minted bells to mark its 850th anniversary. They replace what some unkindly called the most discordant bells in Europe. The new chimes were inaugurated Saturday evening. (Listen to Lisa Bryant's report using the audio player below.)
 
The heart of Paris went suddenly silent as, for the first time in more than two centuries, 10 bells pealed out from Notre Dame Cathedral to thousands gathered to hear them on a sunny afternoon.
 
Some, like San Francisco tourist Faith Fuller, were moved to tears.
 
"They made me cry…this is 850 years of history of a fantastic cathedral. And I'm here in an historic moment…hearing the bells ring for the first time. So it's emotional for me, and beautiful."
 
The ceremony was presided over by government officials and Roman Catholic clergy, including Paris archbishop, Cardinal Andre Ving-Trois, who said he hoped the bells will offer a melodious counterpart to the city traffic and bustle.
 
Notre Dame's original bells were destroyed during the French revolution, melted down to make cannons and coins. Only one survived - 13-ton Emmanuel. The nine new bells now hanging in the cathedral's belfries - all similarly named after religious figures - replace four bells hung in the 19th century. They include a second "big bell" called Marie, which was cast in the Netherlands in the same tradition as Emmanuel.
 
The other eight smaller bells were cast in the Normandy foundry of bell maker Paul Bergamo.

A '21st century set of bells'
 
"The idea of this project was to recreate a set of bells which was as great as the ones that were existing before the French revolution. It was not to recreate an old-style set, but a 21st century set of bells."
 
The cathedral’s bells rang for coronations and for the end of the two world wars. But some bell experts joke their clangs were so discordant they rendered deaf Quasimodo, the famous fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Bergamo is more diplomatic.
 
You can always find some worse (bells). If it was for a medium-sized church lost in the countryside, maybe it could have been acceptable. But for the first church of France to have a set which is not one of the best sets in France is not acceptable."

A difficult task
 
But replacing them has not been easy. Because of France's 1905 law separating religion and state, the bells are property of the French government, not the Catholic church.
 
"That's probably why it took so long to replace these bells. Because it was not a priority of the state to replace these bells."
 
Bergamo's foundry began crafting the eight smaller bells in February 2012, relying on years of historic research and modern-day computer modeling.
 
"A good bell is the bells which ring well. It is a bell for the found or the casting part is a bell with a good skin, a good aspect. And, thirdly, as a symbolic object, it should be a bell where the decoration has a meaning."
 
The cathedral displayed the new bells last month, before hanging them up. More than a million visitors flocked to see them…some gathered around Regis Singer, chief of the bell project, as he described their acoustics.
 
Helping rediscover humanity

The bells must also be in tune with the main bell, Emmanuel, which sets the musical foundation. Together, bell maker Bergamo says, they are much more than the sum of their parts.
 
"I think that people rediscover [their humanity] when you do a project of bells, it's like evangelization. Because it's a project where you federate people. It's not only a project of bells, it's a human project. And I think people, believers or not, need these kinds of projects just to go ahead, to progress."
 
Listening to the bells ringing out, Parisian Patrice Birot describes them as both soft and strong.  
 
"Definitely, I think the role of the bell is to gather people at one point….for me it's a reminder that we have to be in one point in time, at the same time, at the same place, it's like a French "prise de conscience"… becoming aware of what is happening. And let's find out what is happening."
 
For the moment, the old bells are in Bergamo's foundry as a search goes on for the best place to showcase them, probably in the cathedral grounds. They may not be in tune and they may not be beautiful - but they are part of history.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs