Tradition holds that on Holy Friday, church bells everywhere fly away to Rome, receive blessing from the Pope and come back to their parish on Easter Sunday to bring back the good news of Christ reborn! In effect, Easter is close in meaning to blessing, baptism… and why not a baptism of bells, or of a carillon!
« The ceremony called “baptism of bells”, in fact, takes root in the nature of ancient rituals going back to the 8th century… where blessing a bell entailed many exorcisms, as in the ceremony of baptism… everything brings us back to the baptism: water, oil, washing of the bell, presence of godparents, names given to the bell, white clothing, details so reminiscent of a baptismal ceremony that, in a way, justify the almost sacred expression, the baptism of bells.” 1
 Loose translation from excerpt form Le Québec et ses cloches, p. 28, Léonard Bouchard, Éditions de l’Airain, 1990
The blessing of bells at the Oratory took place according to the arrival of bells.
- February 27, 1955 marks the date of the solemn blessing of the Carillon’s first 51 bells by His Eminence Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, Archbishop of Montreal, with the presence of 10 Bishops, and 40 other ecclesiastical dignitaries. The bells were arranged in a row, in the central aisle in the Basilica. In a photo, we can see the number 50, marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Oratory. The leaflet for this blessing is still part of the collection of the Oratory’s Archives
- April 13, 1955: blessing of the 52nd and 53nd bells by Mgr Conrad Chaumont, Auxiliary Bishop in Montreal.
- September 4, 1955: blessing of the 54th bell by Mgr Émilien Frenette, Bishop of Saint-Jérôme.
- October 9, 1955: blessing of the 55th bell by Mgr Gérard-Marie Coderre, Bishop of Saint-Jean-de-Québec. A 56th bell, the highest in tone, was installed in the Carillon in May 1957 (the precise date of the blessing ceremony remains unclear).
The Carillon gets a makeover
Our bells won’t be going to Rome bu our carillon will be treated to a nice restoration, as part of the Major Development Project, in preparation for its relocalization in the upcoming tower slated for the new instrument!
Meanwhile, carillon recitals will keep going thanks to an electronic carillon acquired by the Oratory from Chime Master in Ohio.
This electronic carillon plays exactly like the original. The carillonist plays from inside the Oratory and the instrument is amplified onto the Basilica’s esplanade. In this fashion, we can all keep enjoying our traditional carillon recitals, come Winter or Summer, rain or shine.
Poetry and bells
Émile Nelligan, Félix Leclerc and Anne Hébert are among many authors who have used the imagery of the bell in poetry. Nérée Beauchemin, Quebec poet, writes precisely about Easter bells. Here is an excerpt from his poem entitled “Cloches de Pâques”:
Dans la clarté matutinale
De la grande fête pascale,
Les cloches au rythme éclatant,
Les cloches à voix musicale,
De Rome arrivent en chantant.
Du bronze qui tintinnabule,
L’ineffable musique ondule,
Et l’on croit entendre dans l’air
Les alléluias que module
Le merveilleux carillon clair.