Archive for June 16th, 2008

Harvard returns bells to Danilov Monastery

Monday, June 16th, 2008

American philanthropist Charles Crane purchased the 18 bells in 1929 at one of Stalin’s cultural patrimony fire sales in 1929. Crane donated them to Harvard, where they have been merrily sounding the time of day ever since.

They would have most likely been destroyed had he not snapped them up. As it is, they are the only full set of pre-revolutionary bells to have survived Stalin.

The first request from the monastery to return the 25-ton bells was made in 2002, and since then, one bell has already been returned. The other 17 are on their way now.

For the Danilov Monastery, now the home of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the homecoming of the bells is a matter of spiritual significance. “[The bells] are described as singing icons – that they have voices and tongues that are singing to God as they are ringing,” says Professor Campos. “There is no way to replace these bells. They are an organic set and they have their own history from the place they were hung. They were very much a part of the religious community.”

Hierodeacon Roman, the chief bell ringer at the Danilov Monastery, had only seen and heard the bells on the Internet until he visited Harvard in 2004, where he had a chance to ring them for the first time. “We’ve been anticipating [this] for a long long time in our monastery,” he said, describing the event as being of “miraculous” importance and praising Harvard’s cooperation.

Unlike all the other recent restitutions that have made the news, this one was entirely guilt and recriminations-free. Harvard was delighted to have them all these years, and the Danilov is delighted they survived.

All 18 bells are being replaced by new ones made in Russia specifically for Harvard, and financed by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

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