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Harvard U. has bells that once belonged to Danilov Monastery

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  • Reader John
    FYI, The article below appeared in the Moscow Times on Dec 6, 2002. It would be nice to see the bells returned to Russia, or even a church here in the US
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2002
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      FYI, The article below appeared in the Moscow Times on Dec 6, 2002.
      It would be nice to see the bells returned to Russia, or even a
      church here in the US rather than used at Haaavahd.

      ____________________________________________________________

      Bells Inspire International Tug of War

      By Avery Johnson

      Courtesy Of Harvard University

      The largest bell of the 18-bell set weighs 13 tons and was cast in
      1686. It was dubbed "Mother Earth" by Harvard students.


      Every Sunday, at the Lowell House dormitory on Harvard University's
      Cambridge, Massachusetts campus, a klappermeister climbs to the top
      of a red brick tower and creates a sound that has become almost as
      central to dorm life there as all-night study sessions or fast food.

      The klappermeister (Harvard's name for a bell-ringer) rings 17 bells -
      - Russian bells, originally from Moscow's Danilov Monastery.

      When the Soviet government in the late 1920s threatened to destroy
      the Danilov Monastery's bells, American industrialist Charles Crane
      saved them by purchasing the entire set of 18 bells, and it was
      installed at Harvard in 1930. But the further fate of the bells would
      prove as uncertain as their past -- because at Harvard, no one could
      stand the sound of them.

      In his 1936 history of the bells, "The Lowell House Bells,"
      unofficial klappermeister Mason Hammond described the Danilov bells'
      first concert in their new home:

      "At once the horrid truth became apparent -- this zvon was no
      carillon or set of chimes on which each note could be played
      independently with some semblance of a tune. ... Invariably the
      undergraduates reacted with cat-calls, alarm-clocks, saxophones, tin-
      pans, etc."

      Although the students eventually grew to appreciate the bells, the
      Danilov Monastery has always been home to dozens of listeners who
      long to hear their zvon, or ring. And this year, Patriarch Alexy II
      and several priests at the Danilov Monastery, where the offices of
      the patriarch are housed, launched a campaign to return the bells to
      the monastery's bell tower in time for the 700th anniversary of St.
      Danilov's death in March 2003.

      "The patriarch wants to return the bells in order to restore
      historical truth and correct a historical mistake," Father Alexei
      Polukarko of the Danilov Monastery said last week.

      The monastery's bell tower is not empty today: It was rebuilt in 1985
      and outfitted with bells taken from razed churches in northwest
      Russia, but Father Roman Ugrinko, the current ringer at Danilov, said
      the substitutes' sound doesn't come close to the original bells'
      distinctive ring.

      "The bells have a weak sound, and they don't play well together
      because they come from different churches," he said. "But to ring the
      original bells -- that would be a pleasure. They are the bells Gogol
      heard, they are the bells that called our forefathers to worship."

      But fulfilling the patriarch's request to return the bells would
      require closing the Harvard dormitory for a year, dismantling the
      Lowell House bell tower and shipping the cumbersome copper bells --
      the largest of which weighs 13 tons -- halfway around the world.
      Former Lowell House dormitory directory William Bossert said last
      week in a telephone interview that the effort would cost tens of
      millions of dollars. Despite the price tag, current Lowell House
      director Diana Eck said that she and Harvard president Lawrence
      Summers are considering the Russian patriarch's appeal, which comes
      14 years after a similar move in 1988.

      "Ronald Reagan was at the monastery and there were discussions. He
      promised to help the church talk to Harvard," said the Russian
      Orthodox Church's official bell-ringer, Igor Konovalov. But follow-up
      negotiations failed.

      Subsequently, in 1990, Bossert received a letter from the Orthodox
      Church via the Harvard president's office and helped the university's
      general counsel draft a reply. At the time, Bossert said he suggested
      returning the 18th bell -- it hangs alone in Harvard's Business
      School -- as a compromise, but this was never done.

      "They [the Russian patriarchate] were just hoping that moving the
      bells would be an easy thing, and that we [Harvard] didn't want
      them," Bossert said. "They said 'thank you for being a wonderful
      steward for the bells during a difficult period, but now we want them
      back'. But now the bells are a part of Harvard history too."

      In an e-mail interview this week, Harvard's current official
      klappermeister Alex Healy said any attempt to move the bells would
      prove to be "an architectural and engineering feat" complicated by
      the fact that the tower was actually constructed around some of the
      bells. He added that the dormitory "is very proud of its Russian
      bells. They have been with the house since it was built, and despite
      the occasional complaints, I cannot imagine the house giving them
      away," he wrote.

      Polukarko, however, has no trouble imagining the bells in Danilov's
      tower.

      "To transport the bells will be difficult, but if people can fly to
      Mars then it's possible," he said.

      Polukarko is currently preparing the monastery's arguments for
      returning the bells, which will be presented to Harvard early next
      year. Church leaders disagree, however, over what exactly their
      approach ought to be.

      Konovalov has suggested that Harvard foot the bill for returning the
      bells, without compensation from Danilov, arguing that the church
      didn't sell the bells, so it shouldn't pay for their return.

      "Lenin and Stalin were gangsters," he said. "The church couldn't
      defend itself."

      But Polukarko is more moderate. "It was a sale. No one took the bells
      by force," he said, adding that the church is willing to pay for the
      bells' return, although it would have to solicit donations in order
      to do so.

      At present, neither side is considering filing suit, but if the case
      ever gets that far, the history of the Danilov bells will certainly
      play an integral role in making a judgement.

      The sale of the bells was finalized in the late 1920s, before the
      Soviet government closed the Danilov Monastery in 1930. To remove the
      bells, the top third of the Danilov bell tower was removed. It was
      rebuilt in 1988 in time for the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity
      in Russia.

      Although the 18 bells shipped to Harvard were cast as a set intended
      to be played together, the making of the set occurred over a period
      of several centuries. Tsar Fyodor Alexeyevich commissioned the set's
      largest bell -- the 13-ton bell, which is called the "Mother Earth"
      by Harvard students -- in 1686. Another three were cast over the next
      50 years. Later, in the late 19th century, 14 smaller bells were cast
      to match the older bells.

      When the bells arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1930, the tedious
      process of hanging, tuning and playing them proved too difficult for
      Harvard's experts, so the Soviet government sent its own bell
      specialist to help: Konstantin Saradyev supervised the installation
      and tuning of the Danilov bells and taught bell ringing to a select
      Harvard few.

      But, within a few months, Lowell had caught Saradyev drinking ink as
      an antidote to the poison he believed the Americans had slipped him,
      and sent the Russian ringer back to the Soviet Union, where he died
      in a Moscow mental hospital in 1942.

      The bells have not been tuned since, although a $1.7 million
      renovation of the tower in 1996 and 1997 confirmed that their
      pedestals and cables still function properly.

      Proper tuning or no, however, in Healy's opinion the bells' sound
      isn't as important as that of other instruments -- since their
      traditional function is to call the faithful to prayer rather than
      produce music for entertainment's sake.

      "Many of the higher bells are 'out of tune' in the sense that there
      is a natural Western scale to which several of the lower bells have
      been tuned, and the higher ones do not quite match," Healy
      wrote. "This can often be a little disturbing to Western ears, but,
      for me, the distinctive sound of Russian bells comes from the sound
      of a single bell and its overtones and not the tuning of the entire
      set of bells."

      During their first several decades at Harvard, the Danilov bells
      received far less attention than they have since the 1960s, when a
      group of undergraduate ringers began meeting once a week and on
      special occasions (Halloween, the Harvard-Yale football game, the
      springtime performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture") to
      play the bells for 15 minutes.

      Today, including the Danilov bells, only five complete, intact sets
      of pre-revolutionary Russian bells remain in the world.

      "In that respect, we're glad that the bells weren't melted,"
      Polukarko said.
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