|The bells being removed last 20th February.|
Photo: Delphine Goldszteijn, PhotoPQR,Le Parisien
So the decision was made to replace them with some new, more euphonic, bells in time for the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame this year. Therefore, last February, the four bells were removed from the towers and sent to the bell-founders in Normandy to be melted down. The idea was to cast little model bells from them which could be sold to defray the cost of the new peal.
The news of this reached the ears of the little community of Sainte-Croix de Riaumont in the Pas-de-Calais. They were shocked that this act of vandalism would be perpetrated, all the more so since they are building a new priory and are in need of bells themselves. Their prior, Fr Alain Hoquemiller, (whom I remember meeting a few times when he was studying for the priesthood at Fontgombault Abbey) has made an offer of at least 24.000 euros for the bells (he must have good sponsors!) which is generally considered to be in the right ball-park. But the Archdiocese of Paris has indignantly refused the offer and wants to proceed to the destruction of the bells.
The trouble was that when these first boys grew up, they didn't want to leave. And so the religious community grew out of the scouts. A man called something like Argouac'h (a Breton) was their first ordained priest, and now they have a trickle of young vocations continuing and expanding this remarkable work. Scouting remains at the heart of what they do—even the religious habit is khaki.
So why is the Archdiocese of Paris so reluctant to support this excellent project? It's the old story: the community of Sainte-Croix de Riaumont celebrate the traditional Mass. Of course the Archdiocese don't say that, but they are absolutely adamant nonetheless that the bells shall not go to the community, but shall be melted down, and it seems hard to understand otherwise why. The manufacture of the little souvenir bells will cost some two million euros, apparently, without any prospect of buyers. Here they have a more than adequate offer which they are refusing.
And now the bells have gone to law. For the Archdiocese, the difficulty is that, in French law, the bells aren't actually theirs. By a law of 1905, external features of ecclesiastical structures belong to the state, not to the Church. So, Fr Alain acted correctly in approaching not the Diocesan authorities, but the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles d'Ile de France, known as DRAC, who verbally accepted his offer for the bells in October. This has been contested by the Diocese, and until the dispute can be settled, the bells have had a 'do not touch' order slapped on them by the state.
And, as Fr Alain points out, a law of 15th July 2008 declares that anyone responsible for the destruction or even deterioration of historic religious objects faces seven years of imprisonment and a fine of 100.000 euros!
p.s. There's an online petition here to save the bells.