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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 04, 2003

Russian Monks To Visit, Seeking Return of Lowell Bells

Contributing Writer

A delegation of monks from Moscow’s Danilov Monastery— including the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church— is due to arrive in Cambridge today for a brief trip to see the Lowell House bells and ask the University to return them to the 721-year-old monastery where they originated.

The group, led by Patriarch Alexy II, was scheduled to arrive in New York last night. Lucie McNeil, a spokesperson for University President Lawrence H. Summers, said that she will meet with the monks on Summers’ behalf, and the Russian delegation will also speak with Harvard College officials.

Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck said in October that she hoped discussions with the University about the bells’ future would be productive.

“I personally would like to see the bells returned,” Eck said at the time. “There are a lot of steps that need to be taken, and the purpose of this discussion is to talk about those steps.”

In addition to meeting with Summers, the monks are scheduled to speak with Lowell students and the Senior Common Room tomorrow and attend a Master’ s Tea on Sunday.

Representatives of the monastery have been seeking the bells’ return for almost 20 years, and intensified their quest last year before the 700th anniversary of the death of St. Danil, the Monastery’ s patron saint.

The bells were donated to Harvard in 1930 by American industrialist Charles R. Crane, who bought them from the Soviet Union, which took the bells from the monastery in the 1920s as part of its campaign against the Church.

The monks’ visit has garnered attention from the Russian media.

“Talks on the return of 18 ancient bells...will take place in Harvard State University,” wrote Pravda— one of the country’ s most prominent newspapers— apparently mistakenly associating Harvard with its own leading universities, which are state-run.

In addition, a Russian television crew spent yesterday afternoon in Cambridge, conducting interviews and videotaping the bells being rung.

Vladimir Lenskiy, the New York bureau chief for one of Russia’ s largest television networks, the state-run Channel One, said that the Russian public appreciates having its culture spread across the world.

“The Russians are always interested in the way they’ re influencing other cultures,” Lenskiy said. “When art is in another country, it should stay there.”

But Lenskiy also recognized the Church’ s desire to bring the bells home.

“[The bells] are part of their heritage, part of their culture,” he said.

Lenskiy said that he interviewed Eck and two Lowell Klappermeisters, or bell-ringers— Aara E. Edwards ’ 02-’ 04 and Lowell resident tutor Luis P. Campos ’ 99— for a piece on the bells to air across Russia on Saturday.

— Jenifer L. Steinhardt contributed to the reporting of this story.

Copyright © 2003, The Harvard Crimson Inc.

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