A Journey That Will Come Full Circle and End With a Ring
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
(Photo by Sergei Kivrin for The New York Times)
MOSCOW, March 20 — The bells of Lowell House at Harvard — so much a part of the university’s tradition that they have their own society of bell ringers — will soon return to the Russian monastery from which they were sold more than 70 years ago.
The Russian Orthodox Church and the university announced a final agreement on Tuesday to move the bells next year to Danilov Monastery, the residence of the Russian patriarch, after a replacement set for Harvard is completed.
The bells have become a symbol for the resurgence of the Orthodox Church and its drive, much like Russia's, to reclaim its former glory.
“The bells are not only a witness, but a victim of history,” the patriarch, Aleksy II, said during the signing ceremony at the monastery, which was founded in the 13th century. “They are a symbol of the independence, greatness, and identity of the people.”
Over the years, however, the bells — the oldest cast 325 years ago — have also been endowed with nearly sacred significance at Harvard, where they have become a fixture of Lowell’s identity and a source of pranks, including one played on Franklin D. Roosevelt. (He was led to believe that the bells would be dedicated to him.)
After Stalin silenced the bells and had the Danilov monks killed, an American diplomat, Charles R. Crane, bought the bells from the Soviet government and donated them to the university in 1930. Seventeen of the bells are at Lowell House and the other, also to be returned, is at Harvard Business School.
The Orthodox Church has been pushing for the bells’ return since the Soviet authorities allowed the Danilov Monastery to reopen in 1983. Negotiations between church and government officials and Harvard representatives have intensified over the past several years after the university agreed to study the difficult and expensive task of removing bells from the Lowell House tower built specifically to house them.
Aleksy II said he was happy that his guests from Harvard have been able to “feel this piece of the Russian soul.” Speaking metaphorically later in the ceremony, however, he said that there was a “need to return the stones from whence they were thrown.”
Sean T. Buffington, associate provost for arts and culture at Harvard, who represented the university at the signing ceremony, said, “There is always sadness when you return something that’s important to you.” But, he added, “we are proud to be returning them.”
Earlier in the week, Mr. Buffington visited a foundry in Voronezh, about 300 miles from Moscow, to inspect the work on Harvard’s new bells. He said he was “stunned by the beauty of the replacement bells,” which he said surpassed the originals.
Now begins the daunting task of removing the bells from the Lowell House bell tower, where they are rung on Sundays and at events like commencement. The project to remove the bells will begin in the summer of 2008, with the hope of returning them to Russia by that August, Mr. Buffington said.
Viktor F. Vekselberg, a prominent Russian businessman, who was also at the ceremony, has agreed to finance the entire project, though he refused to comment on its cost.
“A spiritual symbol can in no way be gauged in terms of money,” he said.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company