June 08, 2000
In celebration of the city of Cambridge and of the country’s oldest university and of our earlier history when bells of varying tones summoned us from sleep to prayer, work, or study this ancient yet new sound will fill Harvard Square and the surrounding area with music when a number of neighboring churches and institutions ring their bells at the conclusion of Harvard’s 349th Commencement Exercises.
The bells will begin to ring at 11:40 a.m., just after the sheriff of Middlesex County declares the Commencement Exercises adjourned. They will ring for approximately 15 minutes.
The deep-toned bell in the Memorial Church tower, for years the only bell to acknowledge the festival rites of Commencement, will be joined by the 17-bell Russian zvon of Lowell House, the bell of the Harvard Business School, the historic 13-bell “Harvard Chime” of Christ Church Cambridge, the Harvard Divinity School bell in Andover Hall, and the bells of the Church of the New Jerusalem, First Church Congregational, First Parish Unitarian Universalist, St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, University Lutheran Church, Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, North Prospect United Church of Christ, First Baptist Church, and St. Anthony’s Church.
Bells were already in use at Harvard in 1643 when New England’s First Fruits, published in London that year, set forth some College rules: “Every Schollar shall be present in his tutors chambers at the 7th houre in the morning, immediately after the sound of the bell…opening the Scripture and prayer.”
Three of the 15 bells known to have been in use in Massachusetts before 1680 were hung within the precincts of the present College Yard, including the original College bell and the bell of the First Parish Church.
Of the churches participating in the joyful ringing today, one, The First Parish, has links with Harvard that date from its foundation: the College had use of the Churchs bell, Harvards first Commencement was held in the Churchs meetinghouse, and one of the chief reasons for selecting Cambridge as the site of the College was the proximity of this church and its minister, the Rev. Thomas Shepard, a clergyman of “marked ability and piety.”