Wednesday 16 January 2013

The bells, the bells……

The bells being removed last 20th February.
Photo: Delphine Goldszteijn, PhotoPQR,Le Parisien
And yes, it's Quasimodo's bells, or rather their successors. His bells were removed and melted down in the course of the French Revolution, and were replaced by four new ones afterwards. These bells, christened Angélique-Françoise (1915kg), Antoinette-Charlotte (1335kg), Hyacinthe-Jeanne (925kg) and Denise-David (767) have rung out from the towers of Notre-Dame ever since. The trouble is that the sound they make is not considered of high enough quality for their important location.

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.

This community of Sainte-Croix is a remarkable one; following the rule of St Benedict, they have developed their own version of the life out of the strange circumstances of their foundation. They began when a priest commenced work with the disadvantaged boys of the industrial Arras region of northern France—there was much poverty and hardship, with all the usual accompanying social disorders. This priest, whose name I forget, thought that the scouting movement provided a sort of ideal for boys to live up to, and, not finding the existing scouting movements quite focussed enough, founded his own denomination of scouts to help with his work. Over the years, it became extraordinarily successful. Not only would these boys be taught the usual scouting things, but they would be taught their faith, given the sacraments that they lacked, and provided with a secure home-from-home where they could find affection and stability and some good food. The local social authorities and judiciary noticed the excellent work being done, and began to send boys to Riaumont for help.

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.


pelerin said...

So this is still unresolved! Oh dear. I was horrified when I learnt that the bells would be melted down to make trinkets to be sold to the tourists. And equally horrified when I learnt that the Archdiocese would not sell them to Riaumont.

Call me sentimental but when you think of the great historical events they have rung for in the past I really do not think they should be melted down. I have read that their sound was not good but on the occasions I have heard them the sound definitely brought a lump to my throat.

On the subject of bells I attended Mass on Saturday evening in Notre Dame and see they are still using a dreadful gong like sound of ding dong ding at the Elevations. I suppose it is preferable to silence which used to be the norm there but the sound of a dinner gong (or Butlin's gong) is not conducive to adoration!

I would like to think that to celebrate their 850 years this year they could afford a descent Elevation bell!

The one good thing you have pointed out is that the bells probably belong to the state and surely Cardinal 23 would not want to spend 7 years in prison?

Fr William R. Young said...

There is no doubt whatsoever that the four bells taken down from N D de P are unworthy of remaining there. The revolution swept away some truly wonderful bells, and Napoleon funded the return of cheap replacements in their stead to curry favour. One bell was spared at N D de P, the superb Emmanuel. Two at Sens, Savinienne and Potentienne, whihc are stupendous. The parisian replacement bells were later than Napoleon's time, but poor quality, and totally outclassed by Emmanuel. I can only suggest that Riaumont use their Euros to have some new bells. The new bells for N D de P can be seen on the internet, and there is a recording of what the new bells might sound like on Easter Sunday. Some of them will ring on Palm Sunday for the first time.

john-of-hayling said...

Bells nearer to home..... St Agatha's (Portsmouth) now has a set of 8 bells. These will be rung with gusto on Feb 9th when the Feast of Title will celebrated with High Mass(11.00) in the presence of the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of OLW.

pelerin said...

Today's French news has shown the new bells leaving Villedieu-les -Poeles in Normandy where they were cast, for Paris.

On Saturday the Mass and Benediction of the bells is being broadcast live on KTO (available on the internet) at 11 o'clock French time (10 o'clock in Britain). They will be rung for the first time on March 23rd.

Fr Young may be pleased to know that the news report said that the new bells will sound similar to those lost during the Revolution.

pelerin said...

The bells have arrived safely in Paris. There are some photos on the website of the Cathedral. I'm glad they held up the traffic when the convoy reached the Arc de Triomphe!

PRV said...

Unfortunately it is not so simple!
If you want to know more, look at :
. cloches de Notre-Dame les mensonges de Mgr Jacquin,10607