Notre Dame to replace bells as sour notes take toll


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 per cent of France’s church bells at the time – they were, said 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 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, is 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.

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

Under a law dating 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.

The four grandes dames are currently at the French bell foundry Cornille-Havard, which is making the new bells using medieval methods.

They will be named after eight important figures in French history, with the design reflecting the bells’ namesakes.

Msgr Patrick Jacquin, rector and archpriest at Notre Dame, told the newspaper Le Parisien: “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 2nd February, 2013, we will unveil eight new bells that will be blessed.”

Guardian service