Campus & Community

Lowell House bells to make debut in courtyard concert

2 min read

On Sunday (Aug. 24), anyone near Harvard Square will hear the new bells in Lowell House ring out in concert for the first time.

The public is invited to the 3 p.m. event in the Lowell House courtyard, accessible on Holyoke Street opposite the Malkin Athletic Center.

A set of old Russian church bells — 17 from Lowell House and one from Harvard Business School — has been returned to the 13th century Danilov Monastery in Moscow. They were rescued in 1930 from a Stalin-era purge of church artifacts, and donated to Harvard by philanthropist Charles R. Crane.

“According to my ears, these [new] bells sound definitely better than the old ones,” said bell collector and concert master Igor Konavalov, one of three Russian consultants visiting Harvard for a month this summer. He’s bellmaster of the Kremlin’s 14-bell Ivan the Great Bell Tower, which this year turns 500 years old.

But back in Russia, the old bells will sound better, said visiting consultant Konstantin A. Mishurovsky, chief curator at Moscow’s Museum of Bells. A listener at Danilov, he said, will “get that feeling of hearing the sound that his ancestor heard before.”

During the Soviet era, most sacred bells associated with the Russian Orthodox Church were destroyed in a state campaign to erase vestiges of spiritual life. By 1917, Russia had about 80,000 churches and monasteries, where an estimated 1 million bells pealed in musical sets called “zvon.” Only five bell sets survived; a sixth took refuge at Harvard’s Lowell House.

Harvard returned the original bells in exchange for a set of Russian-cast duplicate bells. The consultants helped design new bell platforms and the weblike system of bell-ringing pulleys and cables.

The size and weight of the new bells (one of them a crane-straining 10 tons) presented the biggest technical challenge, said Hierodeacon Roman, Danilov’s chief bellringer. “This kind of work,” he allowed, “is very unusual.”