The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most famous monuments in all of France. Built over the span of 200 years in the Middle Ages, the Cathedral became a symbol of Paris and the most visited site in the city up until the fire in 2019. The bell tower of the cathedral is famed in its own right, thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel (and later Disney adaptation) “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. While Quasimodo and the rest of the characters may be fictional, there are certain details in the novel that ring true.
In the novel, Quasimodo is the bell ringer at the Notre Dame cathedral, seemingly imprisoned by the archbishop Frollo. While Hugo’s inspiration for this character is unknown, many point to a stone mason named Trajan who had a hunched back and worked in the cathedral in the 1820s. He even went by the nickname “le Bossu”, or the Hunchback. Trajan, however, did not live in the bell tower of the cathedral – no one in the long history of Notre Dame ever did. However, after the publication of the novel, a certain Eugène Gauby moved into the clock tower of the Notre Dame church in the town of Dole with his wife and children. He worked from the tower as the neighborhood watchman, primarily sounding the alarm when he spotted a fire from the heights.
The Bells of Notre Dame
In the novel, the bells themselves almost seem to be characters in their own right – they have names and are described in detail. You may be surprised to learn that the real life bells at Notre Dame have names too! In fact, Hugo seems to have done research and drawn from descriptions of the bells from a 1612 text by Jacques du Breul. The main bell in the south tower is named Emmanuel, was cast in 1686, and weighs about 13,000 kilograms. The other main bells in the Cathedral – Marie, Gabriel, Anne-Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Étienne, Benoît-Joseph, Maurice, and Jean-Marie – were cast and installed in 2012, although many of them were damaged during the 2019 fire. It is hoped that all of the bells of Notre Dame will be ready to ring out again for the people of Paris once reconstruction of the Cathedral is finished next year.
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