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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Harvard Bell Makes Its Return

MTPatriarch Alexy II walking around the newly returned bell during a ceremony at Danilovsky Monastery on Wednesday.
The first of 18 bells at the heart of a long-running, international tug-of-war was welcomed back to its historic home at Moscow's Danilovsky Monastery on Wednesday.

Kerchief-clad women jostled to get a glimpse as Patriarch Alexy II sprinkled holy water on the 2,150-kilogram, 200-year-old "Weekday" bell, which hung for the past seven decades at Harvard Business School.

The patriarch then offered thanks to billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, whose nonprofit Link of Times foundation is financing the return of the bells, and to Harvard for giving them a home in 1930, at a time when the Soviet government wanted to sell them for scrap metal.

"The bells ended up far from their homeland," the patriarch told an audience that included reporters, security guards dressed in Cossack attire and dignitaries, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov and U.S. Ambassador William Burns.

"But it turned out there were people there who did not want to see them melted down, and they ended up at Harvard University."

The 17 remaining bells, which currently hang in the Lowell House dormitory at the Massachusetts university, are expected to return to Moscow in August, Link of Times chairman Vladimir Voronchenko said.

Voronchenko declined to reveal the cost of the project. "We feel that is not the most important question," he said.

The foundation is likely to have deep pockets, though, since it is sponsored by Vekselberg, an oil and metals magnate listed by Forbes magazine this year as the 10th-richest man in Russia, with a fortune of $10.7 billion.

In 2004, Vekselberg used the foundation to snap up the Forbes family's collection of Faberge eggs, which once belonged to Tsar Nicholas II, at a cost of more than $90 million.

Voronchenko described the Danilovsky bells as some of the most important Russian cultural artifacts still remaining outside the country.

The oldest bell was cast in 1682, and more were added over the years. They were at Danilovsky Monastery when writer Nikolai Gogol was buried there in 1852, and they tolled on the 40-day anniversary of his death, an important occasion in the Orthodox tradition.

After the revolution, they nearly fell victim to the Bolshevik anti-religious campaign. In 1930, the Soviets closed the monastery and sold the bells at scrap-metal prices to U.S. industrialist Charles Crane, who donated them to Harvard.

They became part of student tradition there, with undergraduates ringing them on occasions like the Harvard-Yale football game.

"The bells were a bit of an odd item in Harvard's collection, in that there was not great understanding necessarily of the bells, and not great appreciation of the bells," Peter Riley, director of project management at Harvard Real Estate Services, said Wednesday at the monastery.