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Geo answer

For whom do the bells toll? They toll for today's Geo Quiz. Some historic Russian church bells are ringing today at Harvard University's commencement.

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But once the diplomas are handed out?the bells will be taken down from their tower and shipped home.

Where are they going? That's the question for today's Geo Quiz. The bells are being returned to the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It's a monastery on the banks of the Moskva River: a place that dates back to the days before Ivan the Terrible. Back in 1930 when Communists destroyed churches and melted down bells for ammunition...these bells survived a close call.

Some think it was a miracle:

?It's the will of god that they left Russia because that let them survive.?

We'll tell you more about the bells. First name the holy place in Russia where they are bound...

Historic Russian church bells that have hung from a tower at Harvard University for almost 80 years are ringing today for the last time at Harvard.

Selections include a musical tribute to today's commencement speaker -- Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

The bells are among a handful of sets that survived Stalin's ruthless campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church.

An American industrialist donated the bells to Harvard in 1930.

Over the years they've rung on Sundays and for special occasions such as commencement.

Now a Russian industrialist is paying to have the bells returned to their original home -- and the answer to our Geo Quiz -- the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

Danilov TowerDanilov Tower

But as Elizabeth Ross reports, students and faculty at Harvard are determined to carry on the tradition of the centuries-old bronze bells. Listen:

The tower at Lowell House, a Harvard residence hall, was built specifically for the 17 Russian church bells. The sacred bells are decorated with intricate etchings of Jesus, Mary, and various saints. The smallest bells are about the size of a football, the largest is almost 9 feet wide, and weighs almost 13 tons.

Father Roman looks on as Novice Pavel and Hieromonk Andronik try the bells. photo credit: Diana EckFather Roman looks on as Novice Pavel and Hieromonk Andronik try the bells. photo credit: Diana Eck

At Harvard, it's affectionately known as "Mother Earth" because of its deep and resonate tones. Students use foot pedals and pull on an intricate web of ropes to strike the bells, except for the Mother Earth bell. Diana Eck, the co-master of Lowell House, explains.

"This is the one that you need to stand inside the bell, with some ear plugs on by the way, and push that large 800 pound clapper until it touches the bell rim."

Father Roman and Novice Pavel ring Mother Earth. photo credit: Diana EckFather Roman and Novice Pavel ring Mother Earth. photo credit: Diana Eck

"It's quite fun (laughs) Ringing the big one, you've got to put your arm into it (laughs)."

That's Harvard Senior, Elisa Olivieri. She's a member of the Lowell House Society of Russian Bell-ringers. Although the students like to call themselves: "Klappermeisters."

For many years the Klappermeisters didn't receive any formal instruction in the art of Russian bell-ringing. That changed earlier this year when Olivieri and some other Harvard student bell-ringers traveled to Moscow. Their tutors were bell-ringing masters from the Danilov Monastery and the Kremlin. Olivieri says the experience gave her a new appreciation of the spiritual significance of the bells in the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Just seeing the churches themselves and understanding how the solemn and mysterious sound of the bells, merges with the beautiful icons, the gilded walls, the lovely altars. Seeing it all together, definitely changed my conception of how to listen to the bells."

The training may have deepened the students' appreciation of the bells' rich history in Russia. But they still have their own way of playing them. Earlier this week Lowell House hosted a final celebration before the bells are returned to Moscow. The students performed a couple of traditional peals for special guests from Russia.

But they couldn't resist playing some local favorites too. The bell-ringers have been practicing this theme music from the Harry Potter films for months. It's all in anticipation of a visit by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels. She's set to deliver the keynote address at Harvard's commencement.

As you can hear, the Lowell House bells can't really ring a chromatic scale. And this tune is a far cry from traditional Russian bell-ringing, which uses rhythmic patterns, rather than melodies. Russian Orthodox Christians call their bells "singing icons". They believe they represent the voice of God.

Still, none of the Russian monks attending the bell festival seemed to mind when the bells were rung in a secular way. Father Roman is the head bell-ringer at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

"Maybe it would be a little bit unpleasant to me to understand that they were used, the bells, in such a way. But the main thing is that they are returning."

Danilov's Father Superior Alexey --- feels the same way.

Father Alexey with Dorothy Austin (co-master), Father Roman, Maurice Pechet (senior common room member) and translator (in shirt and tie) at the masters' residence garden party, offering thanks. photo credit: Diana EckFather Alexey with Dorothy Austin (co-master), Father Roman, Maurice Pechet (senior common room member) and translator (in shirt and tie) at the masters' residence garden party, offering thanks. photo credit: Diana Eck

"Of course church bells are called to declare glory of God in the church context, but I think that it's the will of God that they left Russia, because that let them survive."

This summer the bells that survived Russia's Stalinist era will be returned to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. In their place, Harvard's Lowell House will receive a replica set of bells, cast by a foundry in Russia. The house master says student bell-ringers will continue their training in Moscow to ensure their new bells are rung in the Russian fashion.

For The World, I'm Elizabeth Ross.