Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers

Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers

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August 16 (Day 5): Road Trip!

August 17, 2018

Greetings! It’s Jessica again. Today we ventured outside of Moscow to visit two historical religious sites: St. Sergius Lavra and Rostov.
Our day began with breakfast at our hotel, and then we headed to the Danilov monastery to meet Father Roman and Igor, our van driver for our day trip. After an hour and a half, we arrived at St. Sergius Lavra.
St. Sergius Lavra began as a settlement founded by a man named Sergius and later became a monastery in the 14th century. It contains multiple cathedrals built during the reign of different tsars. While St. Sergius Lavra closed once communism arose, it was reopened in 1946 because Stalin realized that the Russian Orthodox religion was good for morale.
The first belfry we saw was interesting. It was a combined church and belfry, but it does not contain an internal staircase to the bells. So if anyone wants to ring, they have to climb up a ladder and scale the roof. This year, we didn’t ring the bells, but last year, Jeffery Durand ’17 successfully rang the bells with Father Roman.
Next, when we went into the main bell tower, Father Roman kept telling us, “So. Let’s go upstairs.” As we gradually ascended the 87 meter bell tower, he explained that there were 42 bells in the tower, which was erected in 1744.
Until 1930 when the Bolsheviks destroyed the bells, the largest bell was known as the Tsar Bell and weighed 65 tonnes (think about hanging that on wooden beams!). The biggest bell currently in the tower was recast in 2004 and weighs 72 tonnes. In addition, the tower contains a collection of historical bells, including the oldest bell still rung in Russia, casted in 1420. Both the sizes and longevity in the different bells were absolutely awe inspiring.
We then went into an internal room with a mechanism that automatically chimes the bells every quarter of an hour. It needs to be recharged every week by using a lever to turn the gear system.
But what goes up must come down. After we left the belfry, we went to a few of the cathedrals in the monastery, which were actually very crowded with tourists today. Next, we went into the seminary. In 1814, the Moscow Seminary moved to St. Sergius Lavra, and our very own Father Roman studied here to become a priest. We also visited the monastery’s icon collection. These archives contain the work of the students at the seminary, who copy the icons as a part of their training. To enter a monastic order, they have to study for a minimum of three years in which they must create their own icon as a project. The priests then have the option to study for another two years at the seminary – like an advanced degree in theology.


Next, after a lunch break, we traveled to Rostov in the heart of Russia. Rostov was founded in 862, and its kremlin – a fortress structure – contains many belfries and cathedrals within its walls (now a museum). We looked at various bells in its Bell Center and met with its director. We had the honor of playing in a belfry (Evan’s first time in a belfry!). These bells were casted in 1998 in Moscow with newer technology, so the sound quality of the bells were quite nice.


Following our bell ringing session, we met with Natalie, the director of Rostov. She told us only that only spending a two hours in Rostov was not nearly enough time. She joked that our short visit was like only eating the salad of a four-course meal, really not very satisfying. Father Roman explained that we have a lot to see in our time here in Russia, to which Natalie preached “Quality of travel!” over quantity. Regardless of the short period of time, we still loved Rostov.
We did see what Natalie said was the best part, which were the huge bells in the main belfry. This is a gallery style belfry, so it usually requires four to five bell ringers simultaneously playing. The biggest bell here is 33 tons, but there is a crack in the wooden beam, so it needs a lot of reinforcements…
Finally, we went to the shore of Lake Nero to take a quick walk and absorb its beauty. Ivan the Terrible ordered the construction of a tunnel underneath the lake to the island in the middle in case Rostov was besieged. (I thought it looked good for some open water swimming.)
With a stop for dinner, it was time for our four hour drive back to the Danilov in Moscow. We returned safely later at night, still talking about today’s amazing experiences. As always, we look forward to tomorrow’s adventures and the arrival of Dan, a bell ringer and tutor in Lowell House!

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