Concerts at Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

We’ve attended several concerts at Notre Dame de Paris. According to the church’s web site, sacred music has been an important part of Catholic worship for 1500 years. There is wonder in knowing that there have been perhaps 35 generations of worship in that place – many more if you count the Roman religious sites that existed there since about 50 AD. The gothic architecture has inspired people to look upward and consider their existence for a very long time, and the effect is no different today.

Sometimes when the mood of the music is right, I’ve found myself recalling the story of the Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, thinking about the scenes with Quasimodo, La Esmèralda, and Archdeacon Claude Frollo. The darkened cloisters, candles and spotlights illuminating selected works of art help the drama to come alive.

Sitting in a concert can bring to mind some of the church’s long history. In medieval days those darkened cloisters were the meeting places for members of the congregation. One can imagine the bustle and noise of a church filled each day with people meeting friends and exchanging news and ideas. At night it was cold and sombre and dark. The church was also the chief source of education and learning that provided impetus for the growth of Paris’s Latin Quarter. The religious music program at Notre Dame is a continuation of that focus on education.

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame - now at the Cluny Museum

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame – now at the Cluny Museum

During the Revolution, the mobs broke the windows and took everything of value from the church, including all but one of the bells. They also chopped off the heads and knocked down the statues of all the biblical kings that adorn the front of the building. The mobs mistakenly thought that the statues of biblical kings were those of the hated kings of France. In 1977, long after the figures of the kings had been replaced on the front of the building, the old heads and statues were rediscovered by workers digging around the foundation of a local Paris bank building. These relics of Notre Dame are now on display at Musée de Cluny. Napoleon chose the church as the site of his crowning and coronation as Emperor in 1807, as documented by the famous painting by Jacques Louis David. Even in our own short history in Paris, the church has become a familiar place to admire and visit, and going to concerts provides a perfect opportunity.

The 8000 pipe organ is one of the world’s largest and most famous, and the sound is magnificent. You can see and hear the organ in this U-tube video, which shows the instrument and explains (in French) some about how it works. I recorded a sample of a chorale concert featuring new compositions by 15 composers for a “Notre Dame Choir Book”. The concert music started out pretty dark and heavy with lots of minor chords, but fortunately the music became more hopeful as the night proceeded. The kids singing are between 12 and 14 years old, and they are really impressive. Here is part of the final piece, “Ô Notre Dame du soir” (Our lady of the evening – my apologies in advance for my poor movie making skills):

The lyrics are in French but translated were translated in the program as follows:

Our lady of the Evening,
Whose light shines forth after sunset,
Our hope through the night,
O joy!
Bestow your maternal care
upon us,
Shining star in the overcoming darkness,
O Queen of heaven!
Your tender smile
Is a reflection of God’s tenderness for His
children in exile,
Mother of forgiveness who gave us your Son,
Lead us to Jesus, the Light that was born of
you.
You who dissipate darkness,
O most compassionate,
sweet Virgin Mary!

Paris welcomes a new Pope

Wednesday night’s selection of the new Pope Francis was momentous here in Paris. At about 7 pm the single large bourden bell at Notre Dame started ringing with a low and unmistakable gong. We had heard it only once before, the night Pope Benedict stepped down. I turned on the TV and saw the white smoke at the Vatican. The church bells tell a lot.

We haven’t yet started to tour the most visited sites in Paris – haven’t been up in the Eiffel Tower, haven’t been inside the Louvre, the Musée de Orsay, or any of the other museums. We’ve been on a couple Paris walks and toured Notre Dame de Paris after stepping inside almost by accident one afternoon. The Catholic Churches are the thing we’ve seen most of in living here thus far. In addition to Notre Dame, we’ve been inside St Paul-St Louis (which was built by the Jesuits), St Gervais et St Protais, St Séverin, St Étienne du Mont, and the Abbey of St Germaine du Pres. All, not just Notre Dame, are spectacular Gothic works of art.

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France is predominantly a Catholic country (Wikipedia said between 51 and 88% – don’t know why such a large uncertainty). Nevertheless, its huge ancient gothic cathedrals were irreparably damaged during the French Revolution. King Louis XVI inherited a financial crisis as a result of years of war, including the French support of the American Revolution. In an effort to restore a bankrupt treasury, the Revolution of 1789 stripped the Churches of most of their valuables. Thus relics (such as remains of the saints) were discarded and their gold containers melted down, the bells were taken from church towers, etc, and over the ensuing centuries with the French government no longer supporting the church to maintain its enormous infrastructure, much has fallen into disrepair. For instance, only the stained glass in the east and west roses of Notre Dame is original. The stained glass replacements for much of the rest did not in any way duplicate the originals. Unlike Italy, the French cathedrals have an asterisk beside the feeling that they are ancient treasures. Still the faithful of the Church turn out to visit – thousands and thousands come to Notre Dame, rain or shine or snow. We saw a wedding couple posing in the snow and cold last weekend, just so they could have a photo with the cathedral as the backdrop.

Our guide at Notre Dame spent perhaps an hour and a half explaining in great detail the symbolism of the sculptures, art works, and carvings in the cathedral. She conveyed clearly the biblical significance of all that we saw, and how that message was conveyed through the ages to give meaning to life, and does even so today for the faithful. In addition to honoring the common symbols of Christianity, the art works and carvings document in a most personal way those individuals important to establishing the church in Paris. To me, our guide seemed to be telling us that the church had much to provide, but not as a service to the tourists but in service to the faithful. The Church is committed to finding more members who are committed to the Church. This was a young woman who sacrificed a lot to come from outside the city to give a tour in English to whomever may have stumbled into her fold that day. She represents a tiny portion of the energy of the Church, all over the world, that glides beneath the surface while much of what we see and hear focuses on more sensational problems, such as the criminal acts of a tiny minority whom the church leadership may have failed to ensure were brought to justice. Over the years, British author and former nun Karen Armstong has published work after work showing how religions have changed over the ages to adapt to changes in society, thus enabling them to remain relevant in the lives of their believers. Such may be happening now with the Catholic Church, and perhaps to other world religions.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. With more than 1.2 billion members, it constitutes about 20% of the earth’s population. What happens with the Catholics affects us all. Now the Church has selected a new Pope, clearly with the idea of pushing out in a new direction that emphasizes to the faithful the good that the church is doing in our world and the role of its membership in continuing that good. It will be interesting to see what impact that may have for Catholic France.

 

Snowing in Paris tonight

It’s snowing here tonight, and it’s beautiful. I took some photos of Notre Dame de Paris and of the streets near our apartment. There isn’t very much snow, but it also appears that Paris has no snow removal equipment. Police lights are flashing everywhere. It’s slick out there. On the other hand, the metro is running on time.

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[Notre-Dame de Paris] Ringing in the new: a new set of bells for Notre-Dame’s towers

DSCF1257 DSCF1259Our first day in Paris we saw a motorcade parading some huge church bells. It turns out to be the new bells for the Cathedral at Notre Dame, part of the Church’s 850th Anniversary Celebration. It turns out that the replacement bells installed in the 1850’s after the revolution weren’t so great. Now the music will return. More on the story in the link below.

[Notre-Dame de Paris] Ringing in the new: a new set of bells for Notre-Dame’s towers.