Today’s post finishes up my series on the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris as it was before the recent fire. In this installment, we’ll focus on the bells whose beloved tones are a cherished daily part of Paris life.
During the French Revolution, all but one of the cathedral’s bells were melted down to make weapons and guillotines for the revolutionaries’ grisly work. The destroyed bells were first replaced during the mid-19th century, and then again in 2013 during the celebration of Notre-Dame’s 850th anniversary. In a formal ceremony that drew extensive media coverage, the new bells were washed with holy water, anointed inside and out with chrism oils, and blessed before being installed, again completing the cathedral’s full complement.
|Emmanuel bell. Jason Riedy, CC BY 2.0|
Accompanying Emmanuel in the south tower is the cathedral’s second largest bell, a drone bell named Marie in homage to the Virgin Mary. At six tons and tuned to G Sharp, Marie is called the petite bourdon). Cast in a foundry in The Netherlands, it is engraved with the phrases “Je vous salue Marie,” (in French, “Hail Mary”) and “Via viatores quaerit,” (in Latin, “The way is looking for travelers”). Below is an image of the infant Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, surrounded by stars and a relief with the Adoration of the Magi.
Eight bells of graduated sizes occupy the north tower. At left are nine of the bells on public display in the cathedral’s nave in February 2013. From left to right are Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoît-Joseph, Étienne, Marcel, Denis, Anne-Geneviève, Gabriel, and Bourdon Marie.
|South Bell Tower|
Anne-Geneviève is the second largest bell in the north tower and the fourth largest in the cathedral. Its name is a tribute to St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, and St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. The second line of the Angelus is engraved on it as well as three lines representing the Trinity and the three theological virtues. Weighing three tons, it is tuned to B and is also used to mark specific events. It is the only bell that remains silent during the Angelus Domini at 8 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. in the summer.
Denis is the third largest bell in the north tower and fifth largest in the cathedral. Named in honor of Saint Denis, the martyr who was also the first bishop of Paris c. 250, the bell has engraved on it the third phrase of the Angelus and seven lines representing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the seven Sacraments. It weighs 2 tons and plays C sharp.
Marcel, the fourth largest bell in the north tower and the cathedral’s sixth largest, is named for Saint Marcel, the ninth bishop of Paris in the fifth century, who was known for his tireless service to the poor and sick. The fourth phrase of the Angelus is engraved on it. Tuned to D sharp, it weighs 1.9 tons.
|By Thesupermat - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0|
Benoît-Joseph is the sixth largest bell in the north tower and the cathedral’s eighth largest, named in honor of Pope Benedict XVI, using the French version of his pontifical name and his given name, Joseph. It plays F and weighs 1.3 tons. It has two silver stripes above the skirt, one silver stripe above the nameplate, and is inscribed with the sixth phrase of the Angelus. This bell is used for weddings and sometimes chimes the hour replacing Gabriel, generally on the Ave Maria.
Maurice is the seventh largest bell in the north tower and the cathedral’s second smallest, weighing one ton and playing G sharp. It’s named after Maurice de Sully, the bishop of Paris who laid the first stone for the construction of the cathedral in 1163. It has two gray stripes below the nameplate and the inscription, “Pray for us, Holy Mother of God.” This bell is used for weddings.
|Notre Dame de Paris|
Four additional bells were added at the top of the North Tower in 1856 to replace those destroyed during the French Revolution. These rang daily for basic services, the Angelus, and the chiming of the hours, but were placed in storage in February 2012. The largest of these, Angélique-Françoise weighs 2.11 tons and is tuned to C sharp. Antoinette-Charlotte, weighing 1.47 tons, is tuned to D sharp. Jacinthe-Jeanne at 1 ton is tuned to F. The smallest at 1,691 lbs. Denise-David, is tuned to F sharp like Emmanuel.
In 1867, a carillon of three bells were put in place in the spire with two chimes that linked to the monumental clock. Another three bells were placed in the actual structure of the Notre-Dame Cathedral itself so that they could be heard inside. These have not been rung for some time, but their restoration was under consideration before the fire.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris! Please take a moment to listen to the ringing of the cathedral’s bells, then share your answers to the questions below.
Do you live or work where church bells sound the hours of the day? If so, do you find it pleasurable or distracting? If there are no bells in your vicinity, what other sounds might capture your attention on a typical day, for example, wind blowing through the trees, wind chimes, bird songs, animal sounds like the lowing of cows, bees buzzing in the garden? Or does the cacophony of city streets energize you? Please share the sounds you enjoy during your day!
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is a professional editor, a publisher, and the author of award-winning historical fiction whose books have been endorsed by bestselling authors such as Lori Benton, Laura Frantz, Jocelyn Green, Michelle Moran, and MaryLu Tyndal. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. She is also the author of One Holy Night, which won the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and co-authored the award-winning Northkill Amish Series with Bob Hostetler. Her latest release is Refiner’s Fire, Book 6 of the American Patriot Series.