The pipe organ is an ancient instrument. Indeed, many agree that the first pipe organ was created by a Greek engineer in the 3rd Century BCE. While the appearance and the means by which it is powered has changed dramatically in the thousands of years since then, in many ways it still functions in the same way. Air is channeled through pipes causing them to create beautiful tones. But while this is an ancient instrument, there are few ancient examples of the pipe organ. However, one such example does still exist. Tucked away in the mountains of Switzerland lies an ancient pipe organ that can still be played. In today’s blog, Viscount Organs, the leader in digital organs, takes a look back at its historic counterpart.
The Valère Basilica
Located in Sion in Switzerland, this fortified Basilica is nearly one thousand years old. In 1049, a cathedral chapter was founded in Sion, and construction began around 1100. This initial construction was added to and expanded upon numerous times in the next several hundred years. In the middle of the 12th century, the small cathedral was expanded to include a semi-circular apse. Later, the naves were expanded, and during the 13th century, a ribbed vault ceiling and a rood screen were added. Finally, and most importantly, an organ was installed sometime between 1430 and 1435. Surrounding the organ are a variety of spectacular murals that were painted at the same time. And since then, the Basilica has remained largely untouched. In fact, the only major change it received since the 15th century was being given the rank of a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
The Valère Organ
The organ was added to the Basilica in 1435 and was likely brought by the bishop of Sion, Guillaume De Rarogne. While it is a rather diminutive organ by modern standards, the pipes are arranged to look like the outline of a church. The largest pipes form two towers, and the smaller pipes make up the smaller triangular roof of the church. For nearly 300 years, the pipe organ was used as is, but in the 1700s, it was modified to perform Baroque music, which required more pipes. With this additions, the organ again sat unchanged for another 250 years. It wasn’t until 1954 that the organ was renovated and cleaned. Prior to the restoration, the organ had not been played in nearly a century. While only 12 pipes remain that date back to its completion in 1435, the case is nearly entirely original, and many other parts still retain their connection to the Gothic era.
Today, the pipe organ is still played with some regularity. Each summer, the city of Sion hosts a small festival that invites organ players from around the world to play a piece of this ancient instrument. Its tone is bright and lively and fills the stone basilica with brilliant music and light.
Undoubtedly, this small instrument in Switzerland is a marvel in the pipe organ world. Careful restoration and renovation have kept this ancient piece in working order. If your pipe organ is in need of repair, you might consider a new digital organ from Viscount Organs. Designed to seamlessly integrate with your existing organ, our Physis® technology ensures that your organ retains its beautiful sound while adding new tones and voices. Find a Viscount dealer today to order your new digital organ.