Campus & Community

Bells ring out for Installation

4 min read

A joyous peal of bells will ring throughout Cambridge Friday, Oct. 12.

As with other musical offerings celebrating the beginning of a new administration, the bells will ring in thanksgiving for the installation of Lawrence H. Summers as 27th president of Harvard University. Long a Harvard tradition, bells rang for the 1849 inauguration of President Jared Sparks and the 1909 inauguration of President Abbott Lawrence Lowell. The bells of Southwark Cathedral in London – John Harvard’s baptismal church – rang in 1936 for the Tercentenary celebrations; and since 1989 the bells of the city of Cambridge have rung at the conclusion of every Harvard Commencement.

The bells will begin ringing at approximately 3:45 p.m., when the University Marshal has declared the formal installation festivities adjourned. They will continue to ring for about 15 minutes.

The deep-toned bell in the Memorial Church tower will be joined by the 17-bell Russian zvon of Lowell House, the bell of “Hope, Felicity, and Joy” of the Harvard Business School, the Harvard Divinity School bell in Andover Hall, the historic 13-bell “Harvard Chime” of Christ Church Cambridge, 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 tutor’s 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 on Friday, one, the First Parish, has links with Harvard that date from its foundation. The College had use of the church’s bell, Harvard’s first Commencement was held in the church’s 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.”

Another church ringing its bells in celebration is Christ Church Cambridge. The oldest church in the area, it houses the “Harvard Chime,” the name given to the chime of bells cast for the church in anticipation of its 1861 centennial. Two fellow alumni and Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of “Two Years Before the Mast,” arranged for the chime’s creation. The 13 bells were first rung on Easter Sunday, 1860; each bell of the “Harvard Chime” bears in Latin a portion of the Gloria in Excelsis.

Referring in 1893 to the “Harvard Chime,” Samuel Batchelder wrote, “From the outset the bells were considered as a common object of interest and enjoyment for the whole city, and their intimate connection with the University made it an expressed part of their purpose that they should be rung not alone on church days, but also on all festivals and special occasions of the College, a custom which has continued to the present time.”

The Russian bells of Lowell House ring on an Eastern scale, and have a charming sound and history, as do the bells of the Cambridge churches joining in concert tomorrow. A thoughtful student of bells wrote in 1939, “Church bells, whether they sound in a tinkling fashion the end of the first watch in the dead of night, announce the matins a few hours later, or intone the vespers or angelus, have a peculiar fascination. Chimes affect the heartstrings … .”