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New bells for Notre Dame de Paris

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What really makes a magnificent church? Probably everybody has a different answer: splendid architecture, history, stained glass, a great setting... There are a lot of possibilities, but there is one element that touches everyone, believers and non believers and people who have never set foot in the church or perhaps never even seen it. It sets the rhythm of the day and can sometimes announce both wars and celebrations -- the bells.

Well, Notre Dame is getting new bells for its 850th birthday, and it badly needs them. It is also getting a powerful new and more melodious organ, but the bells are more important.

Nine new bells will be cast and delivered soon, and they will change everything.

Parisians don't know and don't really care how many bells there are in a church. They hear them regularly, but they don't really give them a second thought.

The project endeavours to bring back the sound of the bells of 1686 which lasted until the revolution, when just about all of the bells of France were turned into cannons. One bell from that period still remains in Notre Dame, and its name is Emmanuel. It was installed in March 1686, so Emmanuel is 326 years old. The lifespan of a church bell is between 50 and 300 years, depending on its quality and the frequency of use. Emmanuel is a very fine bell and has one of the best sounds in Europe, so it will be the only bell kept. It weighs 13 tons and has the entire south tower to itself. It is only rung about six times a year.

The north tower contains 4 bells "of poor quality and of clashing tones" which were installed in 1856. A perfectly toned bell will tickle your intestines while a discordant one will just injure your ears.

The four bells were never in tune with Emmanuel, so they will all be removed. Eight bells will surround another great new bell named Marie. The sound of all of these bells will resurrect the sounds described in Victor Hugo's novel.

So, how do you make a new bell worthy of a cathedral? You make them exactly as they were made in the Middle Ages -- an alloy of 78% copper and 22% tin in a mould made of clay mixed with horse manure and goat hairs. Of course, once the bell has cooled down, it turns into a matter of math and physics and a lot of electronics before it is ready.

If you have read all of this, you should be allowed to listen to the simulation of the glory of the new bells:

http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/IMG/mp3/NDP_Projet_Cloche.mp3

If everything stays on schedule, the new bells will be inaugurated on Palm Sunday 2013.

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