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There’s an interesting article in today’s New York Times on the head sacristan of Notre Dame de Paris, who is also the cathedral’s head bell-ringer. A small sample:

Notre-Dame has 11 bells. The four in the north tower were cast in 1856 to replace older ones that were melted down during the French Revolution to make cannons and coins. The 14-ton bass bell in the south tower was cast in 1680 and is supported by a vast wooden cage that dates to the Middle Ages. Six small bells were installed in the 19th century in and below the spire above the church’s transept. The bells, as sacred instruments, are all christened: the bass bell is Emmanuel; the largest of the smaller bells is Angélique Françoise; the smallest, Denise David.

Almost as soon as he took office, Mr. Urbain began to change the way the bells were rung, drawing on his experience at Lourdes. “There was no plan, the bell ringing was always the same,” he said.

The bells were mainly used to sound with simple strokes the thrice-daily Angelus and the Masses on Sunday. But Mr. Urbain realized that he could program the four north tower bells to ring bars of well-known music, including the Bach chorale “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland,” or at Easter time the hymn “Regina Coeli Laetare.” The bass bell posed more of a challenge. It was rarely rung except for solemn feasts like Easter or to mark the death of a pope or archbishop of Paris. But Mr. Urbain devised programs combining the bass bell and the four lesser bells.



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