Russia will get its bells nearly 80 years after they were saved from Stalin's religious purges. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II on Tuesday consecrated 18 newly cast brass bells destined for Harvard University in the United States.
The originals have hung for decades in the towers at Lowell House and Harvard Business School's Baker Library.
American industrialist Charles R. Crane bought the bells from the Soviet government in 1930, saving them from being melted down in purges that saw thousands of monks executed and churches and monasteries destroyed or turned into prisons and orphanages.
"Without exaggeration they can be called the best church art in modern history," Alexy said in a televised address after a consecration ceremony in which he swung incense to and fro, surrounded by priests in golden robes.
He called the replica bells a "worthy replacement" for the original ensemble. "The bells will be sent on the same historic path that their predecessors took," he said.
The original bells were cast in the 18th and 19th centuries and are decorated with etchings of Jesus Christ and Mary, as well as saints and angels. The largest, the Mother Earth Bell, weighs 13 tons and has a 700-pound (315-kilogram) clapper. The smallest weighs 22 pounds (10 kilograms).
In Russia, the original bells will be returned to the Danilovsky Monastery, the Patriarch's residence. The first will arrive in Moscow on Sept. 12, with the others to be shipped in autumn 2008.
Big business has had a hand in the bells' return: Russian oil and metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg is paying several million dollars (euros) to organize the exchange.
The deal agreed in March this year is the latest chapter in Vekselberg's campaign to bring home Russia's cultural heritage. Ranked No. 61 on Forbes billionaire's list with a fortune of US$10.4 billion (EUR7.5 billion), Vekselberg bought 15 Czarist-era Faberge eggs from the estate of U.S. publisher Malcolm S. Forbes in 2004 and returned them to Russia.
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