| Viktor Pyatkov works on a church
bell at the foundry he and his brother operate in Kamensk-Uralsky.
| At a foundry in Nizhny Tagil,
Russia, about 900 miles east of Moscow, workers melt metal
for casting church bells.
| Alexander Parfenov rings the
bells in the tower of the Ivanovskaya Church in Yekaterinburg,
KAMENSK-URALSKY, Ural Mountains -- On the November day when
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was buried back in 1982, priests
say the Kremlin ordered every church bell in the country to
be rung in remembrance.
It would have been an impressive sound, if not for one thing:
Most of the bells were gone -- victims of the Communist Party's
long campaign against religion. With the religious revival since
the Soviet Union broke apart a decade ago, bells are again in
demand in Russia.
A few enterprising metal workers have stepped in to fill the
market niche and the empty bell towers. As the bells ring out
their melodious chimes, the bell-makers ring up profits.
Nikolai Pyatkov recalls being fascinated by an article he read
about the history of bell-casting in a magazine in 1984.
At the time, he and his younger brother Viktor worked as metal
casters in a factory in the town of Kamensk-Uralsky in the Ural
"I started to gather literature on the subject, and my brother
and I tried to experiment with different molds in a shed, but
we were afraid to do it in the open," says Pyatkov, 42.
Though some churches functioned during the Soviet era, many
were torn down after the 1917 Revolution. Others were destroyed
during the fighting in World War II, never to be restored.
Even where churches were left standing, the bells were often
removed. They were melted down to provide metal for power cables,
tractor parts and other industrial items.
By some estimates, 99 percent of Russia's bells were destroyed
in the Soviet era.
In 1989, after restrictions on religion were relaxed, the Soviet
Cultural Foundation printed an ad in a newspaper asking for
help casting bells. The enterprising Pyatkovs offered their
Today, their company employs eight people and produces bells
for 50 to 60 churches around the country each year.
Their rented premises have become a bit tight, so they've taken
a 2 million ruble ($67,000) loan and begun work on their own
No matter how big the plant, church bells can't be produced
on an assembly line, since subtleties of size and shape determine
a bell's tone.
"A good sound from a bell depends, first of all, on the quality
of bronze," Pyatkov said. "A strike of the clapper should produce
a powerful sound followed by a long, velvety hum."
In Russia, each parish has a unique, traditional melody, often
associated with the history of the church or the town where
it is located.
When buying bells which vary in size from about 50 kilograms
to 1.5 metric tons churches order specific combinations
to recreate those melodies. On average, churches have 20 to
The job of ringing the bells is often left to theological students
or other volunteers.
At the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in the nearby city
of Yekaterinburg, the Russian Orthodox diocese is considering
establishing a bell-ringers' school to help preserve the proper
Despite the often joyous and lighthearted sounds of bells,
producing them is not easy work.
Sergei Dneprov, director of a Yekaterinburg bell company that
competes with the Pyatkovs, recalls how one priest argued over
Dneprov, a historian who collects bell lore such as the Brezhnev
story, brought the priest to see the gas furnace in the casting
shop. When his beard began to crackle from the heat, the priest
"I can see it's hell's work," Dneprov quotes him as saying.
"Give me the bill."