bells that rang from a tower at Harvard University for the past 78 years are on
their way home to a monastery in Russia. Andrea Shea has the story behind their
The ornate bells in the belfry at Lowell House, a dorm at Harvard, chimed each Sunday afternoon for about 15 minutes. Graduate student Ben
Rappaport is the Head Bell Ringer and says he and the other ringers often
played contemporary tunes on the enormous bronze instruments. He reports that
one of the most popular ones recently was the theme song to the Harry Potter
the bells themselves haven't always been popular. In fact, when they were
installed at Harvard in the 1930's, students who lived in Lowell House couldn't
stand the clanging and would protest the noise by flushing huge wads of paper
down the toilets hoping to clog the system.
Professor Diana Eck, the current Master at Lowell House, says 80 years
later, students still resent the bells. Part of the reason, she suggests, is
that no one really knew how to ring them properly. "It's a little bit more
like jazz, it requires a group of several people, it is improvisational,"
she explains, adding "when we began really hearing the Russians ring them,
we knew that they were their bells."
the bells rang at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. In the 1920's, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin led a brutal campaign
against the Russian Orthodox Church, killing monks and destroying sacred
property. But the monastery's bells were saved. And in the 1930's, American
industrialist Charles Crane purchased them from the Soviet government and
donated them to Harvard. "[The set] has been preserved here in a kind of
refugee status in the Lowell House bell tower," Eck notes.
the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the church began its campaign to
get the bells back. Professor Eck has been working since 2003 to orchestrate
This month, with a choir singing in the background, the bells were lowered,
by crane from the Lowell House tower. The Lent Bell weighs more than 1800
kilos. The biggest bell, known as "Mother Earth" weighs over 10,000
Superior Alexy of the Danilov Monastery blessed the bells as they were loaded
onto a flat bed truck. He was accompanied by Hierdeacon Roman, the Monastery's
Chief Bell Ringer. Roman says the ceremony is a huge event because the bells
symbolize the now-ended conflict between the Russian state and the Church, as
he put it, "one of the sacred things that connects us with that
He called the bells the voice of the church, and said he was excited that
they will again be one of the best sets in Moscow. "There will be a
celebration from St. Petersburg to Moscow," he said happily, "all the
churches will be ringing."
mark the bells' departure, Heirdeacon Roman and officials from Harvard each
rang the Matorin – or Tsar's Bell – the oldest of the set, cast by Feodor
Matorin in 1682. Then it, and the other bells, set off for the long voyage back
home to Russia.
But the Lowell House belfry won't be silent
for long. A near-replica set, also made in Russia, will soon take the place of
the antique bells high above Harvard's campus.