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On the History of Bell Ringing in Russia
May 17, 2007 19:23

From times immemorial bells were treated in quite a special way in Old Rus. Many tales and legends would tell about bells’ supernatural abilities, such as foretelling and averting danger.

People used to be born and die, defend their native land and celebrate holidays to the sound of bell ringing. Today the once expansive layer of our culture has to be restored by crumbs actually.

The appearance of bells in this country can rather precisely be dated to the 10th century, the time of christening of Russia. However, one should notice that the merit of bell’s creation does not belong to the Russians.

Even such an expression as “malinovy zvon” (translated as “raspberry ringing” and equal to mellow chime) which seems to be natively Russian, in fact descends from the word “Malines”, the French name of the Belgium town of Mechelen, famed by its forty bells carillon.

 As a story says, the first Christian bells come from Italy. Russia adopted bells together with Christianity. The northern lands of Russia got bells imported from the West, while Kiev acquired bells brought from the Byzantine town of Korsun’ (now Chersonese).

However, the information about bells before the 14th century is very scanty, since the development of the ringing art was for many years broken by the Mongol yoke: many talented masters perished or were taken prisoners; many bells were split or fused during violent assaults and heavy fires.

The revival of the ringing tradition started in the 14th century, yet with an eye turned to the West, where at that time bells and chimes were much more widespread and popular than in the Orthodox East. Italian and later German bell-casters arrived in Russia and brought with them small bells and materials for preparing bell bronze.

For a long time, even after the appearance of the national bell school, Russian churches used “Korsun’s”, or German bells, which rang by means of swinging of the bell itself.

Before raising a bell to the belfry, it was always consecrated by a priest, i.e. the Lord’s blessing and power was asked for it: upon a special hallowing ritual the bell ringing could no longer be empty or futile. When hearing bells chime the folks of olden days would take off their hats and cross themselves to appeal to the Lord’s grace and thank for it.

Lots of Russian tsars liked to ring bells with their own hands and competed in the dimensions of bells cast in honour of their reigning. Common folks ascribed magic powers to bells. There were stories telling that bell ringing warded off devil’s plots, diseases, storms and thunderbolts; that not once a bell rang on its own foretelling a war, starvation or the ruler’s death. They even told that by tsars’ orders bells sometimes were “executed” in public for improper chiming: they were beaten by sticks, cut off the ear and exiled.

Bells helped the Russian people to strengthen their connection with the Creator. They filled churches with an amazing abundance of bells, from small to gigantic ones. In hard times bells were weeping, groaning, and praying about the Russian land and people. When terrible wars and famines were over, nothing could sing the people’s joy better than the powerful triumphant chiming of bells.



Compiled and translated by Mikhail Manykin and Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian history     

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