Sunday, April 26, 2020

Why I Watch "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Every Year on the Sunday After Easter

When I returned from a trip to Paris a few years back, I started a tradition of watching different versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame every year on the Sunday after Easter, which is known as Thomas Sunday or in the West as the Octave of Easter. The reason I do this is because I love the story and because of the link with the name of the hunchback: Quasimodo.

The deformed Quasimodo is described by Victor Hugo as "hideous" and a "creation of the devil". He was born with a severe hunchback, and a giant wart that covers his left eye. He was born to a Gypsy tribe, but due to his monstrous appearance he was switched during infancy with a physically normal baby girl, Agnes. After being discovered, Quasimodo is exorcised by Agnes's mother (who believed that the Gypsies ate her child) and taken to Paris, where he is found abandoned in Notre Dame (on the foundlings' bed, where orphans and unwanted children are left to public charity) on Quasimodo Sunday, the First Sunday after Easter, by Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, who adopts the baby, names him after the day the baby was found, and brings him up to be the bell-ringer of the Cathedral.

The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Roman Catholic Introit for this day, which is 1 Peter 2:2:

Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

As newborn babes, alleluia: desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

That incipit, a compound of the Latin quasi and modo, has been reduced to a mere "as" in the English translation; but a more literal take might be "as if, in a way" or "almost the standard of measure". Thus, in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), when Claude Frollo discovers a misshapen baby abandoned on the steps of the cathedral, he bestows the name Quasimodo with a twofold meaning: first for having been found on the Sunday after Easter, but also for appearing "as if, in a way", a human being.

I will add, that I no longer will watch my favorite version, which is the 1923 silent version of the film, on the Sunday after Easter, since I tend to have an opportunity on an annual basis to watch this locally on a big screen with live musical accompaniment usually in September or October when it becomes a popular feature during the Halloween season.

As a final note, since the Sunday after Easter is dedicated to the Apostle Thomas, something I learned when I went to Paris, is that before Notre Dame Cathedral was partially destroyed by a fire on 15 April 2019, there were statues of the Twelve Apostles, made in the style of the 13th century, surrounding the spire at its base. All of the statues look out over Paris except for St. Thomas, the patron saint of architects. He was looking towards the spire as if contemplating it. Viollet-le-Duc, the architect who restored the cathedral in the 19th century, was the model for the statue of St. Thomas.

Apostle Thomas looking towards the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.