Bell Ringing Heals Illness and Depression

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Above me, the dark bronze tent of the bell. Above it, only gold domes and the sky. My hands hardly fit the thick kapron ropes. A team of ringers take their places at the four bell towers of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They allow me as newcomer to make the first stroke of the blagovest. I swing the tongue and ... BOOM!— an enormous sound overwhelms me with its compunctionate triumph. Slipping out of the arch of the belltower, the sound floats away as a silver cloud above the streets and alleys of Moscow. People below crane their necks and the alarms of the cars parked near the church go off.... And miracles begin.

As the large bells boom, the higher voices of smaller and smaller bells enter and the orchestra builds in power until it seems that the evening light of Moscow itself becomes brighter, the air more transparent and cleaner. The faces of the ringers are wet from the rain, and their eyes are joyful. It's hot and a warm wind is whipping through us.

Our leader, Igor Vasilievich Konovalov, the Patriarch's own bell ringer, is appropriately said to be one of Russia’s best. Because of him, hundreds of bell towers in different cities have reacquired their voices, including the major tower of the country, the Kremlin's Ivan Velikiy ["Ivan the Great" or perhaps even "Big John"].*

According to Igor Vasilievich, he has forgotten about sickness since he began to ring. No virus has afflicted him, even once! What is more, Konovalov seriously states that bell-ringing positively heals illness. Many times he has seen a ringer go up into the bell tower sick and come down well.

Once, on the eve of one Christmas, they had to tighten the ropes linking the clappers to the pedals on the first level of Ivan the Great Bell Tower. There was a strong frost that day, and the ringers had to work in an icy wind all day long. Nevertheless, no one even felt the cold— it was as though heat radiated from the old bells.

It's no surprise that hereditary ringers tend to live long. For instance, until just the past few years, 95-year-old Vladimir Ivanovich Mashkov climbed the bell tower of Novodevichy Monastery alone and rang all its bells all by himself. This was a man whom St Patriarch Tikhon once patted on the head for his nice bell-ringing!

But few people are professional ringers. How does bell ringing affect ordinary people? Can we go Matins or Vespers and listen to the ringing of the church’s bells to heal our diseases? Could bell-ringing be used as medicine? What secret influence does bell-ringing have on the human organism?

Konovalov: “Experienced ringers say bell-ringing protects from illness.”

To answer this question, I checked my own senses first: the day I interviewed Konovalov, I was sick with a fever, runny nose, and cough. Even though the interview took place in the rain and wind at a great height, there was nothing left of my cold when I came down.

My own experience has been confirmed by Professor and Doctor of Medicine Sergei Vaganovich Shushardjan. he has researched musical therapy for many years, investigating the influence of music and different musical instruments on human beings. Experienced ringers say that bell ringing protects from illnesses and other troubles. "Music is able to affect the functions of breathing, digestion, and endocrine glands," agrees Sergei Vaganovich. "The mechanism of this influence is very complex. The specific neurochemical mechanisms which are activated in the subcortex of our brain are not well understood. But whatever they are, these effects are already used in practice. For instance in a psychoneurological clinic in St Petersburg, different musical therapies are applied in addition to the usual methods of medical treatment. Bell-ringing is especially effective for depressive patients."

The secret may be that church ringing repeats the tonality of church singing which, in its turn, passes specific healing harmonies and information from one age to another. The acoustics of churches also may play a role. But as remarked above, sometimes it’s enough just to stand close to the old bells to feel the energy and warmth radiating from them. That means not only the art of the ringers and acoustics of the bell tower, but also the qualities of the alloy and the way in which it was cast are significant.

Engineer-Physicist Yuri Kornilov has studied the topic for a long time. He has concluded that bell construction is very harmonious with the human body, whose internal organs respond to every vibration of the outer world. Bells are made in such a way that their vibrations harmonize with the state of our physical vessel. A lot depends, of course, on their shape and casting technology. For instance, alarm bells are cast in such a way as to awaken in the hearer a feeling of disturbance. It seems that blagovestnik bells, on the other hand, fill you with peace and attune you to joy.

In the Russian tradition, there is a special festal, triumphal, and joyful peal known as "raspberry" (malinovy). As it turns out, this is the one that most helps people suffering from depression.

So wait for the next festal ring, and instead of reaching for your tablets and herbal extracts, heal yourself with the raspberry zvon. It might well work. And opportunities to obtain this bell therapy are improving. The art of bell casting is reborn. New churches are opening and new bell towers are regaining their voices. A school of ringers has opened in Moscow. Bells are being exported to America. Soon, just as in the good old days, Paschal, Christmas, and other festal zvons will catch your breath, and help you regain your health.

Tatiana Kharlamova


* “Big John”: In 1505-08, a belltower was built over an existing church in the Kremlin, named for St. John of the Ladder, which was already a bell-tower church. The newer bell-tower incorporated the older church. Later, other churches were also adjoined and/or incorporated, the height of the tower was increased several times, the additional churches ceased to function, and the tower grew to become the highest structure in Moscow. Although it still has a chapel dedicated to St John of the Ladder at the ground level and another dedicated to St Nicholas on its third level, most Russians do not particularly recall this history, though. In the mid-1600s, after it had grown to 80 meters, the tower acquired its own name-- Ivan Velikiy. It is not named after Tsar Ivan the Terrible, as many Westerners think. "Ivan" is of course related to, but is not the same as "Ioann", the saint whose church is still on its lowest level. "Ivan Velikiy" really approximates what we would mean by the nickname, "Big John". It has 22 bells, not counting those in the Ouspensky Tower next to it, which include the 70-ton Ouspensky, Moscow's most important bell.


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