Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Letter from Paris: The Bells Are Silent


I have lived within half a city block of Notre Dame for the last twenty years. I saw the spire from my bedroom window every morning, and at noon, or in the evening, on leaving my apartment, I could touch the cathedral walls. I always directed taxi drivers to head for Notre Dame, and even if they had never heard of rue Chanoinesse — my street — they knew how to get there. 

My father played on the cathedral’s organ, and after his concert, when the cathedral was deserted, he played Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for my wife and me, the sound booming. In winter, when there were few tourists, I would go into the cathedral and light a candle for M.-P. Schützenberger. He had wished to return as one of the gargoyles, and, perhaps, he had. No building has ever been more a part of my life. I saw the spire topple, slowly at first, and then quickly. The police forced me to evacuate to the other side of the Seine. All of Paris was there. I thought of myself as a Parisian, if not by birth, then, at least, by sentiment. Twenty years is a long time. 

The pompiers were in their glory last night, and, when I was allowed to return home as dawn was breaking, they were still there, red-eyed, exhausted, grim. The police, too. The great cloud of smoke had drifted to the west and south. Later that day, I saw the front of the cathedral. Its towers were still standing, but its great bells, which I had heard every day, were silent. 

They will never ring in the same way. Not for me. Not for anyone.

Photo credit: Antoninnnnn [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

David Berlinski

Writer, Thinker, Raconteur, and Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Dr. Berlinski has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.



bellsgargoyleJohann Sebastian BachM.-P. SchützenbergerNotre Dame CathedralorganParispompiersrue ChanoinesseSeinespire