History of the belfry and the Bells

Konstantin Saradjef
Konstantin Saradjef

In the autumn of 1930, all the 18 Danilov bells were taken down from the belfry of the now empty monastery and sent to Leningrad by rail. They were further to go on a long transatlantic voyage to the USA to their new home at Harvard University.

Danilov Monastery bell ensemble had been selected for the University by Konstantin Saradjef. This extraordinary man, a famous Moscow bell-ringer, had an absolute pitch. He claimed he could identify up to 121 flat and 121 sharp variations of every musical note. It means that his music scale consisted of 1701 sounds! He associated each person, object or colour shade with a certain note. In Danilov Monastery museum there is a List of «Personalities» composed by Saradjef covering 16 of the 18 bells brought to America. The list represents the description of their individual sound spectrums recorded by means of notes. Konstantin Saradjef had his own plans concerning Danilov bells. As a matter of fact he had been looking for an opportunity to build up a set of bells and use it to perform his compositions, which were very different from church bell-ringing. Thomas Whittemore, whom Charles Crane had commissioned to purchase bells in Russia, invited Saradjef to participate in the selection, transportation and accommodation of bells with a further prospect of teaching students to ring them. Saradjef could not hope for more. Apart from 17 Danilov bells he picked out another 17 in different Moscow belfries.

Layout of Harvard belfry
Layout of Harvard belfry

He had prepared 132 compositions for this huge bell ensemble. In his written request addressed to «Antiquariat» Bureau, which supervised the sale of the bells to the USA, he asked the bureau to consider the possibility of selling additional bells to Harvard. He wrote: «I would like you to keep in mind the following 98 bells, which belonged to the 20 belfries listed herein; each of the afore-mentioned bells bears the number assigned to it in its respective belfry… I also implore you to remember that in terms of their unique inimitable sound these bells have an exceptional Artistic, Musical and Scientific value and must not be destroyed under any circumstances!» [17]

The list of the 98 bells drawn up by K.Saradjef
In the list of bells, to be saved from destruction Saradjef marked 17 bells he wanted to have in the near future. Thomas Whittemore assured him that the University would agree to the purchase of the complete 34-bell «zvon». However, in the long run, only 18 bells from Danilov Monastery were delivered to the USA. The news upset the expert, who finally arrived in Harvard in spite of the numerous obstacles. On his return trip to the Soviet Union, Saradjef, who did not yet understand that he would never come back to Harvard, drew up the following note: «The rest 17 bells include 12 keyboard bells and 5 trill bells. The list of the missing bells I need, which I am going to bring to Cambridge, includes … (enumeration of the bells follows – author’s note)» [18].

The belltower in 1982
The belltower in 1982

As for Danilov Monastery, in the 1930s it was turned into a«colony» for homeless children and later into a penal colony for juvenile delinquents. In 1939, the belfry was destroyed. Gradually, all the monastery buildings arrived into the decline. Today’s belfry is the result of the restoration work carried out in 1985, after the monastery had been returned to the Church. It was reconstructed in accordance with the old drawings.

Restoration of the belltower
Restoration of the belltower

Design calculations for the bell-bearing structures were made proceeding from the available data on the size and weight of the original bells and on their arrangement within the belfry. The reconstructed belfry was fitted out with 15 old-cast XIX-century bells brought from different regions of Russia. They had survived in the destroyed and closed churches of Moscow, Yaroslavl, Vyatka (Kirov) and Kostroma regions. Some bells were donated to the monastery by private individuals who, being Orthodox Christians, had carefully preserved these pieces of the Orthodox tradition followed by our ancestors through the years of atheism. The total weight of the new bell ring amounts to 9 tons, which is about a third of the original one. The main bell weighs 3.5 times less than its historical predecessor.

Small belfry today

The largest bell, which was cast in Yaroslavl Region in 1886, weighs 221 poods (3.5 tons) (photo). Unfortunately, this richly decorated bell had lost its melody as a result of a damage suffered during a fire in the Soviet times. The fire had probably also affected its original tone. Two other bigger bells weigh 130 and 107 poods (2,100 and 1,800kg) respectively. They are also damaged and have weak voices (photo). The smaller bells weigh from 500 to 10kg. They were all cast in the XIX century at Charyshnikov’s, Finlyandsky’s, Samgin’s and Olovyanishnikov’s foundries.

Another smaller belfry in the Pskov style was constructed next to the Saint Fathers Cathedral during the restoration. It was used to ring a number of smaller bells, which called the monks to weekday services. Soon after the completion of the works, all the bells from the temporary belfry were removed to the belltower. Ironically, the small belfry, which still stands in the monastery reminds the situation of the historical tabernacle belltower.

[1] Archaeological Metric Survey, Performed in 1882 №50 (from the book: Danilov 3rd Grade Monastery of Moscow Diocese in Moscow, Composed by Archimandrite Dionisy. M, 1898, p.57)
[2] See the previous source
[3] RGDA (Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts), Fol.1188, inv.1, file 639, sheet 114, reverse side, translated from Old Church Slavonic
[4] ref.: N.A. Lovkunas. On the History of the Construction of the Saint Fathers of Seven Ecumenical Councils, Danilovsky Blagovestnic, journal, M., 1996, №8, pp. 107–115
[5] The bells had inscriptions made in the Old Church Slavonic ligatures. The inscription on the 65-pood bell said: «This bell was cast in the year 7190 (1682), by order of the Great Tsar and Grand Duke Feodor Alekseevich, the Autocrat of all Russias, and given to the House of the Saint Fathers of Seven Councils and the Saint Prince Daniil at the time of Hegumen Timofey and the brethren therewith» quoted from: Archimandrite Dionisy, Danilov 3rd Grade Monastery of Moscow Eparchy in Moscow, M., 1989, p.63
[6] See the previous source, p.64
[7] TsIAM (Central Historical Archive of Moscow, Fol.203, inv.674, file 33
[8] Quoted from RGDA: Fol.1188, inv.1, file 502, sheet 52–52 reverse side
[9] This unique operation was described in the book titled “Design and Assembly of the Metal Structure for the Support of the Bells in the Ancient Belfry of Danilov Monastery in Moscow”
[10] Monastery museum archive, typewritten document, p.4
[11] Monastery museum archive, autograph note
[12] TsIAM: file № 121 «On the Dissolution of the Monastery», sheet 86
[13] See the previous source, sheet 86
[14] See the previous source, sheet 85
[15] Ch. Lowe, How the Russian Bells Got to Lowell House, Internet article, part 2
[16] There is, however, a chance that the illegible date on the certificate in question could be 1929
[17] Monastery museum archive, autograph note
[18] Quoted from A.I. Tsvetaeva, N.K. Saradjef. The Master of the Magic Chime, M., 1988, Musyka, p.82
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