Newly Appointed Bell Ringer Brings Music to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame

The chief bell ringer Stéphane Urbain and the 14-ton base bell which has been rung much more frequently

There has been a dispute in Cathedral of Notre-Dame ever since the newly appointed chief sacristan and bell ringer Stéphane Urbain has brought “minor revolution” about the use of the bells. These bells, dating as far back as 1680, were mainly used for sound with simple strokes during angelus and Sunday masses, but since Urbain took office three years ago, he has changed the way the bells ring. He has incorporated more use of bells to vary notes and make them sound more “musical,” including the 14-ton base bell which was hardly rung except special occasions like Easter.

These actions have put Urbain in conflict with the caretakers of the bells, who believe the bells should not be rung as much as possible and that people should preserve these centuries-old bells. They say that the more use of the bells will wear out the rim of the bells and eventually “split like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.” Urbain, however, wants to “restore the art to what it must have been when the bells were young.”

This controversy of preservation versus resurrecting the past has got me to think, and I have to side with preservation. While it is extremely meaningful for us to relive what it was like centuries ago, I think our job is to preserve artworks so that the future generations may also get an idea of what it was like in the past.


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