Zut alors! Angélique-Françoise, Antoinette-Charlotte, Hyacinthe- Jeanne and Denise-David have been ceremonially cast from the towers of Notre Dame to their demise.
these aren’t Parisian women – they’re the names of four 19th-century bells that
were replaced by a new, improved set in March to honour of the cathedral’s
850th anniversary. The bells that until recently occupied the North Tower,
were, to the ears of bell aficionados, discordant impostors – cheap
replacements brought in after the originals were melted down to make cannons
during the French Revolution. Eight new bells recreate the more tuneful
repertoire of the originals – the same bells that Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo might
the cathedral’s most famous bell is going nowhere. Having survived the French
Revolution intact, the 13-tonne Emmanuel in the South Tower has made a name for
itself booming out at critical junctures in French history – notably the
coronation of various kings and the liberation of Paris during WWII.
Here are a few other interesting facts from the cathedral's history:
The Quasimodo factor
Unlike in the famous Disney film, Quasimodo wasn’t the main character in Victor
Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. In fact his name doesn’t even appear
in the book’s French-language title, simply called Notre-Dame de Paris.
Nonetheless, upon publication in 1831, Hugo’s book revived interest in the
then-dilapidated cathedral. Restoration followed, including the rebuilding of
the spire in 1860.
Up to the wire
Many visitors to Notre Dame climb the towers for panoramic views of the city
(and close-up encounters with the cathedral’s famous gargoyles). Few go to the
lengths of the high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who, aged 21, broke into the
cathedral at dawn on a June day in 1971 and shuffled between the two towers on
a wire. He famously went on to cross the twin towers of the World Trade Center
Wolf at the door
Notre Dame faces a large square, Place du Parvis Notre Dame, intended as an
intermediary space between the holy cathedral and secular Paris. However, it
staged a grisly drama in the winter of 1450, when a pack of man-eating wolves
broke through the city walls and mauled 40 hapless civilians to death. An angry
mob eventually cornered the wolves by the doors and stoned them to death.
Notre Dame’s greatest upheaval came during the French Revolution when it was
declared a temple to the Cult of Reason – a sort of ersatz religion for the new
Republic. Inside, statues of the Virgin Mary were replaced with Lady Liberty on
cathedral altars, and crosses were removed. Notre Dame served time as a
warehouse, before being returned to its original purpose in 1801.
The headless figure on the front façade is St Denis, patron saint of Paris. The
story goes that St Denis was beheaded by pagans in the 3rd century. He
surprised everyone by picking up his head and walking six miles, preaching
sermons as he went. One matter for dispute in 15th-century Paris was who
actually owned this famous head. Notre Dame claimed to have the top of his
skull, while the nearby Abbey of Saint Denis claimed to own his entire head
(and his body).
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.