The Bells of Notre Dame

Morning in Paris, the city awakes
To the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes, the bakerman bakes
To the bells of Notre Dame
To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of the city’s
The toll of the bells
The bells of Notre Dame

 – The Bells of Notre Dame from The Hunchback of Notre Dame 

Our plan, this Saturday, was to take in Les Miserables which FINALLY opened in Paris on February 13.  But when the sun decided to shine bright we decided to change the theme of our day to reflect a different Victor Hugo story and go see the bells of Notre Dame.

This was no small feat as throngs of others wanted to do the same.  You see, these are new bells and there are only 8 more days to see them.

Notre Dame has nine new bells, ordered for the cathedral’s 850th birthday, replacing what are widely said to be France’s most out-of-tune church bells.  There’s some irony that in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the solitary bell-ringer Quasimodo was deaf.

The original bells were destroyed during the French Revolution and the four replacements were cast in the 19th century.

Those four bells have been removed, melted down, and recast into a new set of eight bells.

The nine new bells will take their place after February 25th where they will prepare to be rung for the first time on March 23rd, the day before Palm Sunday.  Nine bells have not rung together in Notre Dame since 1789.

In the meantime, the bells are on display in the nave of the cathedral for all of us to touch, caress, or slap (yes, we “slapped” the bells to hear the quiet vibration of the bell).

The first bell you see as you enter the nave is Jean-Marie.  She’s the smallest of the bells but you don’t realize how large they actually become until you’re walking right next to them.

You move from Jean-Marie past Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Genevieve, and Gabriel.  Each has their own design, including their engraved name as well as the phrase “Via viatores quaerit,” which is latin for “I am the path looking for travellers.”

The final bell, and the largest, is the cathedral’s namesake: Mary.  She weighs in at six and a half tons and is made of glistening bronze.  And she will be the loudest.  Mary will hang with Emmanuel, the only remaining original bell, in the South tower.

They are large and gorgeous and magical.  And I can’t wait to hear them.

We’ll catch a movie some other day.



A group was giving out free hugs (which some of us partook) but we also gave our own.






Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “The Bells of Notre Dame

  1. Mary

    SOOOOOO COOL! Thanks for sharing! Have a great week Engles!

  2. Karen Hoffmeier

    You are right, you can see a movie any day. What a wonderful experience. Just think how long those bells will be in Notre Dame.

  3. Are you able to tell us where each of their names came from?

  4. Kelley

    Barb, it looks like the bells are named after French saints. Here is a 2011 NYT article that provides more information about the history of the bells but not much about the names:

  5. Midori

    What a fun diversion! Interesting that both The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Mis are by Victor Hugo (and don’t let me forget to keep bugging you to go to Besancon where Hugo was born (where I studied) – a must-see visit in all your spare time 🙂

  6. Corinne

    Okay, it’s official, I am green with envy.

    I have tried to push the jealously monster down into a dark corner of my being since the planning of this trip to Paris, but she has escaped in all her emerald glory at this post about the bells.

    Too flippin’ cool, Kelley!

  7. Megan

    How lovely! What a beautiful story connecting history to art to culture. Love it!

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