PARIS — The cathedral of Notre Dame — French for "our lady" — has finally got the prima donna worthy of its name.
Weighing in at six and a half tons of glistening bronze, this lady is no ordinary person: she's a bell named Mary.
Mary is in fact the largest — and loudest — of nine new, gargantuan Notre Dame bells being blessed Saturday in the cathedral's nave by Archbishop Andre Armand Vingt-Trois.
"They are beautiful (bells). … We will hear them ringing today during the celebration, and we will hear them during coming years as Notre Dame's chimes," Father Edouard, a priest from outside Paris who had come for the blessing, said.
The nine casts were ordered for the cathedral's 850th birthday — to replace the discordant "ding dang" of the previous four 19th century chimes. After the originals bells — including the original Mary — were destroyed in the French Revolution, the replacements were widely said to be France's most out-of-tune church bells. There's some irony that in Victor Hugo's classic novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the solitary bell-ringer Quasimodo was deaf.
For Catholics, as well as visitors with pitch-perfect ears, it's a historic moment for the cathedral.
"During the French Revolution, they (the original bells) were all brought down and broken except (one) and four other bells that were recast in the middle of the 19th century. … This will complete in a definitive manner the entire set of 10 bells as conceived … in the Middle Ages," Notre Dame rector Patrick Jacquin said.
Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Genevieve, Gabriel will ring together with Mary to add a harmony to the French Gothic landmark, not heard since 1789.
Travelers have come far and wide to catch a glimpse of the bronze giants — on public display until Feb. 25.
"I came from Spain, just for today to see them," 21-year-old Eugenia Santos said. "Notre Dame and the bells are famous thanks to the church and also Victor Hugo. … With more bells, maybe Quasimodo won't be so lonely anymore."
Testament to the international pull of Notre Dame — with its 20 million annual visitors — on each bell is written "Via viatores quaerit," Latin for "I am the path looking for travelers."
Each dome has a unique and different patterning, some with shiny, matte and etched sections, and each chime to a beautiful different pitch.
The first time revelers will able to hear the new pealing will be on March 23, just in time for Palm Sunday.
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