Tunisia: Centenary of the Great Organs of Tunis Cathedral

Source: FSSPX News

The organ at the St. Vincent de Paul and St. Olive Cathedral in Tunis, work of the prestigious Cavaillé-Coll house, was inaugurated on October 28, 1923, after having been blessed by the Primate of Africa, Alexis Lemaître, a hundred years ago.

“The blessing was given by the bishop, before the Mass, from his pontifical throne, and was barely finished when the organist, Mr. Righo, made a majestic entrance,” wrote the weekly La Tunisie Catholique in an article dedicated to the inauguration of the great organ of the cathedral.

The instrument has three 56-note keyboards and a 30-step pedal board and has 33 real stops and 1,853 pipes.

During a recital tour in Tunisia from December 10 to 14, 1952, Léonce de Saint-Martin (1886-1954), organist at Notre-Dame de Paris, declared it one of the most beautiful organs in Africa. Maurice and Marie Madeleine Duruflé also performed in concert at Tunis Cathedral on December 9, 1954.

The cathedral is placed under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Vincentian Fathers and the Daughters of Charity, who, as a young priest at the beginning of the 17th century, was captured and sold as a slave in Tunisia. It is also placed under the patronage of St. Olive, a young girl from Palermo (Sicily), martyred in Tunis probably in the 5th century.

The current building succeeds a pro-cathedral – the cathedral of the diocese was in Carthage – which, built in 1881, quickly deteriorated. The first stone of the new construction was laid on May 19, 1890 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie (1825-1892), three days after the consecration of the Primatial Church of Carthage. However, work did not begin until September 1, 1892.

The church, co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Carthage, was consecrated at Christmas 1897. Following the Modus vivendi signed in 1964, governing relations between the Holy See and the Tunisian government, the Archdiocese of Carthage became a prelature of Tunis, and the titles of Archbishop of Carthage and Primate of Africa disappeared.

The centenary of the installation of the great organs of Tunis Cathedral was to be celebrated on October 28, 2023. However, “the events in the Middle East, with their share of deaths and disappearances, forced the organizers to postpone the ceremony until beginning of May 2024,” announced the Tunisian online daily La Presse.

Indeed, the Tunisian government has canceled all cultural events in the capital, due to the clashes in the Gaza Strip. However, on October 28, the anniversary, Jean-Cyrille Gandillet, organist of Monaco Cathedral, wanted to mark this date with an “intimate” concert of contemplation.

In the presence of Ilario Antoniazzi, Archbishop of Tunis, and Laurent Jost, director of the Hasdrubal Foundation, he performed the finale of sonata no. 1 op. 42 by Alexandre Guilmant, the andante from the Gothic Symphony by Charles-Marie Widor, the Carillon de Westminster by Louis Vierne and the allegro from Symphony No. 6 by Charles-Marie Widor.