Friday, August 17, 2007

Harvard's Russian bells (Danilov) to go home

~from Harvard Gazette via Catholic Light

More than 80 years after they were rescued by plumbing magnate Thomas Crane, the Lowell House bells are returning to their original home in the St. Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

Crane bought the bells in 1922 for the cost of the 26 tons of bronze of which they were made. Ranging in size from the 13-ton Bell of Mother Earth to a 22-pound mini-bell, the set of 18 bells, or zvon, would have been melted down as part of Josef Stalin's campaign to destroy the Russian Orthodox Church. Crane donated the bells to Harvard in 1929.

Following years of negotiations, Harvard and representatives of the monastery reached an agreement in which the bells would be returned to Russia and replaced by a new set cast by the Vera forgery in the Voronezh region of southwestern Russia. On July 24, a delegation from Harvard participated in a ceremony at the monastery in which the new bells were blessed by Patriarch Alexey II, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, before traveling to their future home in Cambridge, Mass.

"In Russia, this was a very visible project. Hundreds of people came to see the bells and the event was on the news all over the country," said Lowell House co-Master Diana Eck, who spoke at the ceremony.

Eck told her Russian audience that Harvard would be sad to see the bells leave Harvard, but she looked forward to a continuing relationship between Lowell House and the Danilov Monastery.

"We felt the link between St. Danilov and Lowell House was worth preserving," she said. "It creates an opportunity for future musicological and cultural exchanges."

In a sense, those exchanges have already begun. As part of the process of planning for the repatriation of the bells, representatives from Harvard and St. Danilov have been getting to know one another through a series of visits over the past year.

Last summer, Eck; project manager Peter Riley; associate provost for arts and culture Sean Buffington, who served as project director; and Timothy Colton, the Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies, traveled to Russia to visit bell foundries and learn about the art and science of bell casting. They chose the Vera forgery because it was the only one able to cast bells the size of the 13-ton Bell of Mother Earth, the largest of the 17 bells that occupy the Lowell House tower.

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