Back to News page., Monday, April 24, 2000, 12:00 a.m.

Seattle hears sound of old Russia; bells custom-made for Orthodox cathedral 

by Frank Vinluan
Seattle Times staff reporter
Yesterday, a sound rarely heard since the Russian Revolution rang in Seattle.

The Rev. Vadim Pogrebniak, dean of St. Spiridon Cathedral, 1310 Harrison St., introduced a rare set of four Russian bells during Palm Sunday services. (The Orthodox Church in America celebrates Easter a week later than most Christian churches.) The Russian bells are one of an estimated six sets in North America.

"Here in America, you just don't come across Russian bells," said Pogrebniak.

Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco has Russian bells dating to 1867, the oldest such bells in the United States. Alexander II, czar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, donated sets of bells to Eastern Orthodox churches around the world.

But few remain from that donation. The 1917 revolution that brought communists to power also silenced the peals of Russian bells in Orthodox cathedrals. In their zeal to stamp out religion, the communists closed many churches. They also melted down the silver and bronze bells, and forbade the casting of new bells.

St. Spiridon's bells came from Pyatkov, a foundry in the Ural Mountains. One of Russia's top foundries until the rise of communism, Pyatkov has resumed bell-casting only in the past few years, said the Rev. Michael Dunbar, assistant director of St. Spiridon Cathedral.

"For 70 years under the communists, they couldn't cast bells," Dunbar said. "It was a lost art that's been rediscovered."

St. Spiridon's congregation might not have heard the bells were it not for Sharrie Shade of Seattle, who donated them in memory of her late husband, Gregory Shade, a parishioner who died in July.

An inscription on the largest bell reads, "The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation." Engraving on that bell also depicts St. Gregory the Theologian, Gregory Shade's patron saint. 

The $7,500 set of bells was ordered in January and arrived last week. Weighing 350 pounds, the set will be hung in the cathedral's tower, where it will be used during religious services in concert with or perhaps in place of the brass bells now used. Pogrebniak said he will research how the bells should be rung during services.

Russian bells sound better because their silver and bronze alloy produces a crisper sound than brass does, Pogrebniak said. 

Also, Russian bells do not swing like many brass bells. Hanging the bells, then ringing them with a clapper results in a sound that rings longer, Pogrebniak said.

That sound was not lost on parishioners at yesterday's service.

"It's so touching," said Marina Dietsch. "Every time it rings, it's in his (Gregory Shade) memory."

Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company


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