Episcopal cathedrals toll bells for Notre Dame, other houses of worship hit by fires

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 18, 2019

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal cathedrals joined their counterparts across the Anglican Communion in a simultaneous tolling of bells on April 18 as an expression of support for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a fire destroyed the roof and spire of that centuries-old Roman Catholic landmark.

The Episcopal cathedrals, including Washington National Cathedral, tolled their bells at 2 p.m. EDT to coincide with bell tolling around the world, timed for 7 p.m. in Paris in recognition of the hour three days ago when the fire was first discovered at Notre Dame.

National Cathedral in the U.S. capital sounded its large bourdon bell “as a mark of solidarity following the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral,” the cathedral said in a Facebook post. Episcopal cathedrals in Cleveland, Ohio; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Boise, Idaho; Jackson, Mississippi; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and other cities also announced they would toll their bells at the same time.

The Very Rev. Bernard Owens, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, issued a statement in which he described cathedrals as sacred places that “speak of God’s transcendence in the midst of the places where we live, work, worship and play.” He also noted his own cathedral recently completed a series of fire protection upgrades.

“God is present in these sacred vessels, and so we grieve when fire and flood consume them,” Owens said. “We pray for those whose lives and livelihoods are connected to this magnificent cathedral today, and we pray for the safety of those who will work to preserve and rebuild it in the years to come.”

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, in addition to tolling its bells, will incorporate music with connections to Notre Dame into its Maundy Thursday and Easter services.

The cathedral’s music director and organist, Maxine Thevenot, had the rare distinction of playing the Notre Dame organ twice. In a news release issued by St. John, Thevenot lamented the Notre Dame fire, saying it felt “like a kick in the gut.”

The show of solidarity follows a call by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu to all cathedrals in the Church of England asking them to toll their bells together April 18.

Investigators still are searching for a cause for the fire, but initial evidence indicates it was accidental. France has planned a daylong tribute April 18 to the hundreds of firefighters who battled the blaze for nine hours and helped save Notre Dame from a more severe catastrophe.

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the damaged cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but some experts warn the work could take decades and cost billions of dollars.

Notre Dame Cathedral, which was completed in 1345 after nearly 200 years of construction, has long been revered as a global architectural icon, and not just for Roman Catholics. News of the fire prompted outpourings of grief this week, and social media users filled feeds with stories of their past visits to Notre Dame.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in a statement issued with the Very Rev. Lucinda Laird, dean of the American Cathedral in Paris, and Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe Bishop in Charge Mark D.W. Edington, offered “our sincere condolences and our readiness to offer any hospitality that would be of help to the community and congregation of Notre Dame in this most holy season of the faith we share.”

More than $1 billion already has been raised for repairing Notre Dame, though the flood of donations sparked some backlash from those questioning whether charity dollars would be better used helping people rather than repairing buildings.

At the same time, the response seems to have had the unexpected side effect of drawing attention to the plight of three historically black congregations in Louisiana still struggling after an arsonist set fire to their churches this spring. Since the Notre Dame fire, donors have given nearly $2 million to a GoFundMe campaign for rebuilding those three churches in St. Landry Parish.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi, referred to the Louisiana church fires in announcing its plans to join other cathedrals in tolling bells on April 18.

The Notre Dame fire has “brought back painful memories of other beloved houses of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by fire,” the Jackson cathedral said in a Facebook post. “We at St. Andrew’s Cathedral are mindful that our own first two edifices were destroyed by fire.”

St. Andrew’s will toll its bourdon bell “as an expression of solidarity following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and in solidarity with all whose sacred house of worship has burned.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.