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The story of the "Non Pareille" bell

Birth of the bell tower

In the early sixteenth century, Francis de la Rovere, an Italian, bishop of Mende and nephew of Pope Julius II (the sponsor of the fresco of the Sistine Chapel), decided to add a tower to the cathedral. On May 22, 1508, the canons of the Chapter Assembly were summoned.

Monsignor della Rovere announced that he would build a tower, at his expense, for the good of the Church and of
the city of Mende.
Asking chapter to deliberate on it and to determine the place that is most suitable for the location of the said building, he set work in motion as soon as a favourable response was delivered.

Work was completed in 1512.
The great tower, that of the bishop, is ornate with many depressed arches surmounting the columns of the terrace indicating the influence of the Renaissance. It measures 84 metres in height. A second bell tower built by one of the canons and much more sober, is only 65 metres in height.

These impressive towers could not remain silent for long and required a very special bell 




In October 1516, 180 mules bring  600 quintals of metal  from Lyon shipped by Monseigneur de Rohan, Bishop of Lyon. This metal is used to create three bells, including the famous "Non Pareille".
The clapper, manufactured near La Levade in the Gard, is transported by a white mule that dies of exhaustion on its arrival in Mende. The public not surprisingly sees a bad omen in this...

The bell is then founded on the spot, below the great tower, at the site of the present Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary. The particular shape of the vault, interrupted by a circle about 4 meters in diameter shows where it passed through.


The de la Rovere family

The Della Rovere family was on of the great families of Piedmont who provided two Popes along with several cardinals and bishops.
The patriarch was Francois de La Rovere, pope from 1471 to 1483 under the name of Sixtus IV. He is the uncle of Julien, the famous and powerful Pope Julius II (pontiff from 1503 to 1513) who was Bishop of Mende from 1478 to 1483. Both were nephews of Pope Clement, Bishop of Mende from 1483 to 1504, and Francis, the brother of Clement, Bishop of Mende from 1504 to 1524.
For 46 years, the diocese was administered by three members of this family.
Only the last, Francis, resided in the diocese and died in his castle at Balsièges. The other two, Julien and Clement, never set foot in
the town.

 portrait-Jules II
Pope Julius II,
bishop of Mende
1503 - 1513

The Non Pareille bell

In 1517, the bell was lifted with the help of a powerful crane and was named in honor of François de La Rovere. Marie Therese appears to have been an early nickname for the bell but it quickly acquired the name "Non Pareille (No Equal)because of its exceptional size.
The bell set several records, being the largest, heaviest and also the noisiest bell ever made. The dimensions that are most often cited are impressive:

3.25 m diameter, 2.75 m high and 33 cm thick. Weight 25 tons.

According to custom, to imagine how big it was, observe the roof of the staircase tower adjoining the large bell, showing the size and shape of
the Non Pareille. It could be heard for heard approximately 16 km away across the plateau of Chanac Roy. It fascinated and frightened the locals - rumor had it that people's fragile hearts would take refuge in the cellars when it rang, and mothers hid their children away for fear they might get punctured eardrums

The great clapper which is still housed today within the cathedral at the side of the west front, alone weighs 470 kg and measures 2.20 m high and is 1.10 m in circumference at the hammer. It became the subject of popular belief that touching it would make women fertile
Clapper of the "Non Pareille" (470 kg)
Mende cathedral.

Destruction of the Non Pareille 

Unfortunately, this exceptional bell met its end during a tragic episode in local history.
Nostradamus wrote 25 years beforehand:
Ol toc de la campano, Mendé malo sepmano" (when the bell rings, it will be an evil time for Mende).

A victim of the religious wars, it sounded for the last time at the midnight mass in 1579 and according to some texts:
"the powerful vibrations prevented people hearing the alarm of the sentinels who guarded the city walls."

It was destroyed shortly after by the Huguenot captain Mathieu Merle.
The notary Destrictis, eyewitness to the episode wrote:
"As we could not succeed in breaking the Non Pareille, we did make a big fire, below and around, and she was made to warm up so that afterwards we broke it easily."

the recovered metal was used to make two big guns.
All that remains is the iron clapper - it was nearly lost when revolutionary committee members wanted to sell it but no buyer was found. The cathedral did not ring again until after the wars of religion, with the beginning of reconstruction.
In 1598, the year of the Edict of Nantes, Henry IV offered the cathedral of Mende a ringing clock of more modest dimensions.
the top of the great bell tower, it has sounded the hour and half hour ever since.

Although long gone, the Non-Pareille and its story resonate in the common memory to this day

Modern bell records:

The heaviest bell in the world is the master drone "Tsar Kokol III", cast in 1735, it weighs nearly 202 tons, measuring 6m10 high, as much in diameter and 60 cm thick. Orthodox bels arel designed to be fixed, it can be seen in the Kremlin in Moscow. Its flaw makes it unusable.

The largest swinging bell in the world was created for the third millennium and shipped from France to the United States, it weighs 33 tons.

In France, the largest bell in use is the "Savoyard" (18.8 tons, 3.06 m diameter), offered by four dioceses of Savoy in the late nineteenth, it dominates the steeple of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre in Paris.


Had it not been destroyed, the Non-Pareille would still have its place among the most exceptional bells in the word!

Office de Tourisme Intercommunal Mende, Coeur de Lozère

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