Bells ring in Moscow after 80-year exile in Harvard

Fri Sep 12, 2008 9:53am EDT
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By Denis Dyomkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A set of church bells rang out for the first time on Friday after being returned to Moscow's oldest monastery from the United States nearly 80 years after they were sold off as scrap under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The Soviet authorities stripped 18 bells from the Danilov monastery as part of a campaign against religion and put them up for sale.

U.S. industrialist Charles Crane saved them from being melted down and donated them to Harvard University, where they hung in a tower for decades.

The bells' return, sponsored by a billionaire Russian tycoon, has been presented as a powerful symbol of the Kremlin's drive to revive Orthodox traditions which were smashed by the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet rule.

It was also a rare bright spot in relations between Russia and the United States, chilled by Moscow's military intervention in pro-Western Georgia.

"The bells, which were in forced exile for more than 80 years, have returned," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II said after blessing them. "We thank all those who preserved them in these difficult years.

"The monastery bells will again call believers to prayer and will tell them about the beauty of Orthodox church services and Orthodox traditions. They will call people to peace," he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev rang the bells three times, followed by billionaire businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who sponsored the operation to recover them and cast replicas for Harvard after years of negotiation with the university.   Continued...

<p>A nun stands during a blessing ceremony for 18 bells in Danilovsky monastery in Moscow September 12, 2008. Eighteen original bells were returned by U.S. Harvard University in return for their copies. The original centuries-old bells were sold abroad by the Soviet government during Josef Stalin's rule. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin</p>