Monastery Hopes for Bells by Late 2007

Harvard UniversityAll 18 of the Harvard bells are expected to return to Russia by next summer.
The bells have tolled for Nikolai Gogol and Martin Luther King, Jr., announced football victories, been sold for scrap metal and called congregants to prayer.

And next year, Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow may finally get all 18 of them back from Harvard University, where they have been hanging for more than 70 years.

"For us, it's the lost voice of our forefathers," said Father Roman Ogryzkov, the monastery's head bell-ringer. "It's this ancient voice that the monks had known; it's the bells that are connected to our history."

The set of church bells is one of five remaining complete sets cast before the Revolution. U.S. industrialist Charles Crane bought them from the Soviet government and gave them to Harvard in 1930, saving the bells from being melted down in the Bolsheviks' war on religion.

The monks of Danilovsky were less lucky: Most of them were executed in 1937 during Stalin's purges.

After the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1983 and renovated in 1988, the Orthodox Church began inquiring about getting the bells back. The first of the bells was cast in 1682; the rest were assembled over the next 200 years.

At Harvard, one bell was hung at Baker Library, while the rest went to the tower of Lowell House dormitory. Harvard students developed a tradition of ringing the bells on Sundays and on memorable occasions.

In late 2003, Harvard agreed to return the bells if a set of replacement bells was provided and the Russian Orthodox Church handled all the expenses of shipping, dismounting and replacing the bells.

In 2005, Patriarch Alexy II approached metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg to see if he would help buy back Danilovsky's bells after Vekselberg bought the world's largest Faberge egg collection and brought it back to Russia, said Roman Taker, managing director of Vekselberg's foundation, Link of Times.

The foundation subsequently agreed to foot the bill. It is expected to cost several million dollars to transport the bells from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Moscow, Taker said. But the precise price tag is unknown, he said, because studies of the Danilovsky belfry and the Lowell House tower have yet to be completed. Dismantling the Lowell House tower to lower the original bells and install their replacements is expected to be the costliest part of the project, Taker said.

A group of Harvard representatives visited Russia in August to tour five factories that produce bells. In October, the university will select one of the factories to produce the replacement bells.

While Harvard was initially reluctant to return the bells, a group of Harvard klappermeisters -- the name of Harvard's bell ringers -- who recently visited Russia helped foster greater understanding, Ogryzkov said.

The students traveled through Russia to see the bells being put to use in churches. When they saw for themselves the role played by the bells in Orthodox churches, they were "stunned," Ogryzkov said.