Monday, March 25, 2013

The Bells! The Bells!

Quasimodo's not here to ring them in, but we are....Notre Dame's new bells. We are lucky enough to see them before they are installed in the towers.

They exhibit them for a few weeks in the nave of the cathedral. Each bell is decorated uniquely and named for a different saint. Because of perspective, it's hard to tell in the photo above, but the bells we see first are much smaller than the ones closest to the altar.


Jean-Marie, whose note is "la #3" weighs in at 782kg or 1724lbs.
Maurice, "sol #3", at 1011kg or 2229lbs.
Benoit-Joseph, "fa #3", 1309kg or 2886lbs. 
Etienne, "fa 3", 1494kg or 3294lbs. 
Marcel, "re #3", 1925kg or 4244lbs. 
Denis, "do #3", 2502kg or 5516lbs.
Anne-Genevieve, "ti" (called "si" in French), 3477kg or 7665lbs.
Gabriel, "la #2", 4152kg or 9156lbs.
Marie, "sol #2", 6023kg or 13,278lbs -- nearly seven tons. 
I assume # actually means "sharp" and not "number", but I don't know what 2 and 3 mean. Some of my more musical friends could answer that, so here's the information in its original state to interpret.

The beautiful new bells are replacing these old clangers that have been in the tower since the Revolution, when Quasimodo's bells were melted down.

In theory, the new bells are meant to have a purer, higher-quality sound, in keeping with the prestige of the cathedral in which they are placed, and to be able to chime out actual tunes. The reality, however, is disappointing. On the first day they are to ring -- the weekend before Easter -- we stand outside on our balcony at the appointed hour of 17h (which is 5pm to you and me), and we hear.....nothing.

The old bells could be heard loud and clear throughout the neighborhood, so we assume either we have the time wrong, or they are having some sort of ceremony first and will ring them later. We find out from one friend that they do, indeed ring at 5pm, and she is out front with the throngs to hear them. Faintly. Another friend is in the garden of Notre Dame at 5pm and can barely make them out. And now all of Paris is spouting a scientific theory I came up with years ago -- and for which I have been soundly mocked: Sound is uni-directional.

I guess we'll barely notice at all when the bells go quiet for the three days before Easter to mourn Jesus' crucifiction. (As the story goes, these are the three days during which the bells "fly" to Rome to be re-baptised and then, on their "flight" home, magically drop chocolate eggs for the French children to find. No bunnies here!) Then, I guess we'll barely notice at all when they start ringing again on Easter to joyously announce Jesus' resurrection. Maybe I'm wrong, and Notre Dame has just been holding back so that the Easter ringing can be a real doozy. I certainly hope so. If not, I personally am going to spend this Easter mourning the loss of the chiming bells and wishing for the resurrection of those old tons of metal from the scrap heap.



Kristin said...

Great pictures! I see little Anna!
And, what a colossal disappointment not to hear those bells from your apartment.

Goody said...

I would think the numbers mean which octave the pitch is referring to. For example middle c is c4 so la#3 would make me think it is the a# in the third octave of the piano keyboard, a whole step below middle c.