History of the belfry and the Bells

In 1701 and 1710, the monastery belfry was weakened by the hard burden of requisitions. All over Russia, following the order given by Emperor Peter I, bells were taken down and recast into cannons. The Danilov belfry was not an exception and the monastery lost almost half of its bells, including, probably, those, which had been given to it by Ivan Kalita (14th century) and Ivan the Terrible (16th century). 

The construction of the modern building of the monastery belfry with the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite over the monastery Holy Gates was carried out in 1731–32 and funded by the Moscow merchant Mikhail Andreevich Kosyrev.

Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery Belfry
The belfry has an octagonal design in Naryshkin Baroque style. Its special feature is an increased length of the eastern and western faces. Due to this peculiarity, the octagon is inscribed into a rectangle elongated along the north-south axis and not into a regular tetragon. This type of belfries is quite common among the architectural monuments in the north of Russia. One of them is the belfry of Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery. Researches believe that oversized arch spans on the eastern and western sides of the construction were introduced with the purpose of placing the bells on the target axis to form the prevailing direction for the propagation of their sound.

After the construction of the new belfry, the tabernacular belfry of the monastery church ensemble remained «idle» as all the bells were evidently removed to the new one.
Church of the Holy Fathers in 1730–1745, reconstruction

In 1746 it was pulled down and 10 years later it was replaced by the Church of St. Daniel the Stylite, which has survived intact till nowadays.

The total weight of all monastery bells in the middle of the 18th century amounted to 163 poods (about 2,700 kg). Supposedly, the 65 pood (1 ton) Tsarsky (the Tsar-gifted) Bell was the biggest. In addition to the bells, the upper tier of the new belfry housed a German «striking» clock.
The belfry with traces of a clock face. 1882, N. Naidenov’s photo album

The clock was taken down at the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century, it was still possible to see the circles left by the clock faces on the northern and southern sides of the belfry’s drum. Originally, the belfry was covered with profiled wooden planks. Under the impact of sunrays, this wooden cover took on a soft silvery shade and provided a highly decorative look. Unfortunately it was short-lived. There is evidence that in 1760 this cover still existed and was regularly renovated.

Example of a profiled wooden planks cover

In 1763, the monastery inventory showed 7 bells in the bell tier and 5 small chime bells of the clock chimes. In 1790, a new 131 pood (about 2.2 tons; entered in the inventory as a 125-pood) bell was added to the monastery ring of bells. Later, «through the effort of Archimandrite Georgy and with the help of benevolent contributors» [6] one more bell was cast at Strugovschikov’s foundry. The bell weighed 314 poods (about 5 tons). The monastery did not have enough money for such a big bell and announced a fund-rising drive, which went on for 8 months. The book of records, which was used to maintain a record of the donations, is kept in the monastery archives. The bell was cast in 1803.

Monastery inventory of the belfry, 1859, RGADA (Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts)

The principal inventory of Danilov Monastery property for the year 1859 mentions 8 belfry bells. In the years that followed the number and the total weight of the bells grew considerably. By the end of the 19th century the monastery had 14 bells. In addition to several smaller bells, the monastery had acquired its biggest Blagovest Bell.

It happened in 1890. The existing 314-pood bell was damaged beyond repair. In July, Metropolitan Ioannikiy of Moscow got a letter from Anastasia Sergeevna Zakharova, the widow of the merchant Zakharov. She wrote: «I want to provide for the acquisition of the main six-hundred-pood bell for Danilov Monastery in memory of my late husband provided that the old 314-pood bell is reused for its casting. I undertake to add about 280 poods of the requested copper and arrange for the bell to be cast and mounted on the belfry at my expense with the permission of your Eminence» [7]. The permission was given and at the beginning of November the giant bell was delivered to the monastery walls.

«Bolshoy», (The Biggest) Bell, 1907
It weighed 722 poods (12 tons) against the announced 600 poods. The inscription that ran around the bell’s lip told the story of its creation: «This bell was recast from the old 300-pood bell with the addition of new high-quality metal through the efforts of Father Archimandrite Iona and owing to the donation of the merchant’s wife Anastasia Sergeevna Zakharova for the repose of her husband Ioann, a humble servant of God. Cast by Ksenofont Veryovkin, casting master of Finlyandsky’s Works». It is worth mentioning that Ksenofont Veryovkin was a famous Moscow casting master who made the biggest bells for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. His big bells can be still heard in Jerusalem and in Helsinki.

A 5-ton bell in Jerusalem, cast by K. Verevkin

Now the monastery had a perfect heavy-weight bell. It was immediately called “the Biggest”. But for the first 17 years after it was cast, the bell was rung on the makeshift wooden belfry near the Holy Gates outside the monastery walls, because the old belfry was too run-down and unsafe.

In 1902–03 the issue of mounting the 722-pood blagovest bell onto the belfry and the related problem of the pending reconstruction of the old belfry were raised with new urgency. The monastery’s father superior, Archimandrite Tikhon, supported by the monks took a decision to build a new higher belltower at the monastery’s western wall. In his report to the Metropolitan of Moscow dated 10 February, 1904, Father Tikhon wrote: «The need to build a new belfry has become pressing. Muscovites, and especially our benefactors, who come to the monastery, have repeatedly emphasized this need; many of them have expressed a wish to help and promise to contribute money and materials for the construction. In 1903 we collected over 6,000 rubles for the construction of the new belltower. During the construction we expect new donations; some of them will be very generous. However, apart from the expected donations, the monastery has its own considerable funds» [8]. A design project of the new belltower was developed and approved. In the monastery archives there is also a draft of a more elaborate belltower, but evidently, it was turned down.

Unrealised project of Danilov Monastery belfry
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