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Vladimir Voronchenko, chairman of the Link of Times Foundation, rang the bell yesterday that will replace one that has hung for decades atop Baker Library at Harvard Business School. The older bell is returning to Moscow.
Vladimir Voronchenko, chairman of the Link of Times Foundation, rang the bell yesterday that will replace one that has hung for decades atop Baker Library at Harvard Business School. The older bell is returning to Moscow. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)

For Russia, a chime from the past

Historic Harvard bell returns to its home in Moscow

Nina Vishneva's grandmother often spoke of the pain Russians felt when religious artifacts were smuggled from the country or destroyed during Josef Stalin's brutal reign.

Yesterday, Vishneva and her mother, who traveled from Moscow, were on hand at Harvard Business School to watch as crews used a crane to lower a 4,700-pound bell from the cupola atop the Baker Library for its return to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

As the workers lifted a glistening copper bell in its place, Vishneva, a reporter for a Russian-language television station based in New York, captured the historic moment for people back home.

"It's a very exciting day for Russia," she said. "Today is a new page of our history."

The bell en route to Moscow is one of 18 owned by Harvard for nearly 80 years that were made in Russia before the country's 1917 revolution. It will be sent to Moscow, where a ceremony will take place on Sept. 12 to reinstall it in the monastery. The remaining bells, which hang above Lowell House, a Harvard undergraduate residence hall, will be replaced next summer.

Charles R. Crane, an American industrialist and diplomat, purchased the bells in 1930 and gave them to Harvard to prevent them from being melted down for ammunition as antireligious fervor swept through the country. They were one of a few sets that survived Stalin's reign.

The replacement bell for Baker Library, made of copper and a small amount of zinc, was cast by the Vera foundry in southwestern Russia. It was made to celebrate the business school's 100th anniversary and features images of both the library and the Danilov Monastery.

At the blessing of the new bell last month in Moscow, caravans of people cried and applauded in the streets as they followed the truck and tried to touch the bell that symbolized the return of their own religious icons.

At yesterday's ceremony, many people said the exchange signifies a mended relationship between two countries whose philosophies once collided.

The Rev. Alexander Abramov, secretary of the Representation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the USA, said that seeing the gray, weathered bell emerge from the tower yesterday was like finding an old photograph in a drawer that captures an important and defining family memory.

"I feel like that it is something that belongs to my personal family history . . . coming back home," Abramov said about the bell. "That is part of a collective memory of the people and the church."

Bells, known as "singing icons" in the Russian Orthodox Church, call the Russian people to prayer and serve as daily reminders of one's faith, Abramov said.

Members of the Russian church approached Harvard officials in the mid-1980s about retrieving the bells, said Peter Riley, director of project management for Harvard's Real Estate Services, but the exchange officially began last August when Harvard representatives began visiting companies in Russia that could cast the replacements.

The project is funded by The Link of Times, a foundation that scours the world for lost Russian artifacts and helps return them, said Edward A. Mermelstein, the foundation's US director, based in New York.

"Harvard did not have to give the bells back," Mermelstein said. "They, as a cultural institution, understood the value of these bells to Russia."

Mermelstein said the foundation does not yet have a cost estimate for the exchange or the replacement bell, but that it will reach several million dollars once the 17 other bells are installed.

At yesterday's ceremony, Diana Eck, housemaster at Lowell, said the bells had arrived at the Harvard residence the same year it opened, giving the university a sense of distinction.

"They've really been part of the history of this house, and in each and every generation there have been bell ringers," she said.

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