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Background: Harvard has a set of 18 Russian bells purchased from the Soviet government in 1930, one of only five complete, intact sets of pre-revolutionary Russian bells left in the world. They came from Moscow's oldest monastery, which is now also the Patriarch's residence. The monastery has been trying to get the bells back for the past 20 years, but they have become part of Harvard's culture too, and the university is not just hoping to get rid of them. Also, the towers would have to be dismantled in order to remove them. Nonetheless, the dialogue has been amicable, and Harvard is willing to entertain the idea of their return.


December 13, 2002

Our House, Our Bells

The Russians are mad at Harvard again. But this time, instead of faculty bungling their economy, it’s an alum pilfering their bells. In 1930, Charles Crane bought 18 bells from the St. Danilov Monastery to save them from the Soviet authorities, who wanted to melt them down, and donated them to Harvard. But now the rebuilt monastery wants them back by March 2003.

One word to our Russian friends: Nyet.

Let’s just think about the costs. If the University decided to give the bells back, it would have to dismantle the Lowell House tower, which was built around the bells, spending millions of dollars and disrupting student life for at least a semester. Significant parts of the residential house would have to be closed— which would invariably make already space-starved Lowell residents even more cramped. All this to give back bells a Harvard alum rightfully bought and saved from destruction. No monastery bells, no matter how symbolic they may be, are worth that much time, effort and inconvenience.

Even so, one of the monastery fathers, Alexei Polukarko [sic], defended the effort to topple the Lowell tower, saying, “To transport the bells will be difficult, but if people can fly to Mars then it’s possible.” We hate to point this out, but people cannot, as of yet, fly to Mars. And if people could fly to Mars, it would be extremely expensive to do so. Similarly, we cannot, as of yet, get those bells out of their tower without tearing it apart. And if we could, it would be extremely expensive to do so.

The bells have been here for decades; they are now part of Harvard’s history. For over 70 years, hung-over Lowell House students (or those just trying to concentrate on the afternoon football game) have had to endure their Sunday clanging. And though some of Lowell’s sleeping residents may not appreciate the bells when they’re ringing, a little bit of the Harvard’s historical charm and mystique would be ripped out of the Lowell tower along with them.

Instead of raising gobs of money for a few monastery bells, which is so clearly an atrocious waste of time and funds, why not donate some cash to a charity or a non-governmenal organization working inside Russia? Starving Siberian children, struggling Petersburg pensioners and unemployed Muscovites would certainly prefer a warm meal and a roof over their heads to big copper bells.


Copyright © 2003, The Harvard Crimson Inc.


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