One Last Time, Ringing Out the Old

June 1, 2008

Author: Elizabeth Ross

Source: The Boston Globe

Around the grounds of Lowell House at Harvard University, this year's commencement ceremony will echo with sounds that will soon be lost forever.

For nearly eight decades, the university residence hall has housed 17 Russian church bells whose solemn and mysterious tones have added a touch of gravitas to such occasions. On graduation day this Thursday, the bells will be rung at Harvard for the last time.

After the ceremonies, workers will begin the delicate task of removing the sacred bells, the largest of which weighs about 13 tons, from the bell tower at Lowell House, and preparing the belfry to receive a replacement set cast by a foundry in Russia.

The existing bells were donated to Harvard University in 1930 by American industrialist Charles R. Crane, who purchased them from the Soviet government. The bronze bells were cast in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and are among the few to have survived Stalin's campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church.

The bells' original home, the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, was reopened in 1983. Since then, the Danilov monks have been urging Harvard officials to return the bells, and after extensive negotiations and planning, the bells will be returned this summer to the monastery, which is the residence of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The project is being financed by a foundation established by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg.