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History of Bell Founding in Russia, Part 1
June 12, 2015 19:59


Since times immemorial bells and bell ringing have been an integral part of the Christian church service. Bells came to be used in Europe in the late 6th century and in Byzantium in the 9th century. The first annalistic record of bells in Russia dates back to 1066. During the Tatar-Mongolian invasion bell founding could not develop in Russia, and it was probably then when bells of the pre-Mongolian period were lost. Only two Old Russian bells and fragments of 40 more bells of the pre-Mongolian period have come down to us. The lower diameter of these bells varies from 30 to 60 cm. they are made of bronze containing 20 to 24 percent of tin.

Only twenty years after the ruining of Russian lands rare annalistic records of bells were made. One of them goes back to 1259. According to the annalistic text, Prince Daniil Galitsky transported bells and icons from St. Sophia Cathedral in to his ancestral lands of Kholm.

It took some time for bells to become as widespread and valued as traditional Slavic flat bells (aka the Semantron, or “bilo” in Russian). Tulip bells were initially treated as newcomers from the Catholic West and so not widely welcomed. Over time, however, the Semantrons, standing at the roots of the Orthodox bell ringing gave way to bells, and yet were kept up for a long time, especially in monasteries and village churches. Thus, the church property census carried out in the second half of the 17th century (the heyday of bell founding art in Russia) in the Novgorod diocese revealed that flat bells (bilo) were used in an overwhelming number of monasteries and churches in that period. Unfortunately, the traditions of playing the Semantron (bilo) in church service were gradually forgotten and by the 20th century the intricacies of their production and ringing were nearly lost in Russia but for several monasteries and Old Believers’ parishes in Altai, Siberia, Ukraine and other places.

Bell founding in Russia went through the same stages as in the West. Initially bells were made by monks, but later handicraftsmen took up bell founding. Among the founders working in Russia there were lots of masters brought by Russian princes from Europe. However, starting from the 15th century outstanding Russian bell founders came up. It should be noted that the profession of bell founders (often combined with cannon founding) was highly appreciated and hereditary.

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The early 15th century saw the opportunity to cast quite many bells of large size. The earliest of the remained bells of that period is a bell of 1420. It is located in the belltower of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. It is called Nikon’s or Wonder-worker’s Bell. Having quite an unusual shape, it nevertheless still participates in bell ringing.

Along with the inflow of bell founding masters from the Western Europe, Russia developed its own centers of bell founding. Pskov was the most popular town for that. Private bell foundries came to appear in Moscow from the period of Boris Godunov's reign.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Bells Bell Ringing Semantron Russian Church Russian Music Instruments 

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