First bells — The meaning of the word ‘kolokol’ — Klepalos and bilos — The legend of the Pronsk bilo — The legend of the ancient Novgorod bells — Cast iron, glass, clay and wooden bells — Classification of bells — The history of Nabatny or Vspoloshny (Alarm or Fire) bells — Assembly bells — Krasny Zvon (Red Chime) bells — Bells kept in captivity or sent to exile — Tsarsky (Royal) gold and bast bells — Bell casting — Bells famous for their sound — Cryptographic bell inscriptions — The art of bell-ringing — ‘Baptism’ of bells — Bell inscriptions — The Tsar Bell and its history — Ivan the Great Bell — The great Uspensky Bell — An incident, which happened when this bell was being lifted to the belfry — Bells: Reut, Vsednevny, Bear, Swan, Shiroky, Slobodskoy, Rostovsky, Nemchin, Glukhoy and Korsun zazvonny bells
The first bells were supposedly cast in Ancient Egypt. According to the historians they were used in the magical rites performed during Osiris festivities. Ancients Greeks were also familiar with bells: in the temples of Proserpina (Persephone in the Greek mythology), bells performed the same function as they do in our churches today — they called people to service. Tibulus Strabon and Polibius, who lived 200 years before Christ, mentioned bells, and later, Josephus Flavius gave their detailed description in his Jewish Antiquities. Some of the Chinese and Japanese bells are as old as their Roman, Greek or even Judaic or Egyptian counterparts.
Some scientists are inclined to believe that the Russian word ‘kolokol’ has the same root as the Greek word ‘kalkun’, which corresponds to the Russian ‘klepalo’ or ‘bilo’ (semantron — a wooden or metal plank used as a gong or bell). In Western Europe, the first bells appeared in the late VI century. It is believed that the first bells were cast under the supervision of St. Pavlin, the Bishop of Nola in Campania, hence- their Latin names ‘campana’ and ‘nola’. In Christian churches the bells could not have come into use before the end of VI or the beginning of the VII century. An old legend says that when in 650 A.D., the army of Clothair besieged Orleans, the Orleans’ bishop Luppe ordered to ring the cathedral bell of St. Stephen’s Church. The besiegers panicked and fled because they took the sound of the bell for an angel’s voice. Bells were very seldom used in the Middle East and Asia Minor, because after the Turks captured Constantinople almost all the bells were destroyed and only a few were left in Syria and Palestine. The Turks banned the bells under the pretext that they allegedly disturbed the peace of the souls that were hovering in the air.
Both the ancients and the Christians used bells for different purposes: they were rung to call people to temples, to tell the time, to announce the beginning of military actions and setting out on a campaign. In some places the sound of the bells accompanied the convicted to the scaffold, informed the inhabitants about the fire, or death of a monarch, a bishop or even a private person. As we have already said, in small towns and monasteries, klepalos, bilos or wooden boards were used instead of bells, like, for example, in Greece, where they were called semantrons. They were just wooden or metal planks, which were struck with thick sticks or clappers. Such planks were used in Novgorod and Pskov churches in the XII and XIY centuries. They are still used in the Altai Region, in Siberia and in Old-Believers’ Sketes.
In Plotnaya Sloboda, which is now a suburb of the town of Pronsk, the local parish church belfry has an ancient bilo. According to the legend, in the old times, the bilo was used as an ’assembly bell’. Old local residents say that for some unknown reason this bilo had been repeatedly transferred to the village of Elshina, about 5 versts (9km) from Pronsk but every time it returned to the old place. According to the same legend, in the old times, this bilo used to belong to a nunnery, which was later raised to the ground. The parish church, which now stands in its place, has preserved the miraculous bilo. The church graveyard became the last abode for many princesses and duchesses of the Pronnsky family. The famous bilo was bricked up in the church so as to never leave it again. People believe no force can take a bilo from the place to which it was once bequeathed.
The first mentions of Novgorod bells date back to the XI century. One of them was found in the old chronicle. It tells about the coming of a Lithuanian prince Vseslav Bryachislavich, who took down the bells of the Sofia belfry in 1066. The other was included in the life story of the reverend Antonius the Roman, who approached Novgorod from water in 1106 during the matins and heard the load tolling of its bells . The construction of those bells must have been quite different from the one we are used to and they are unlikely to have survived till nowadays. However, following a popular legend one of the smaller bells in Antoniev Monastery is called the Bell of the Reverend Antonius the Roman (died in 1147).
The entry in the Church Chronicles made in connection with the cast of the first 70-pood (1,176kg) bell for Filippovskaya Church  in Novgorod in 1558 says the ‘there has not been a big or any other bell starting from the time of the construction of the stone churches of Ct. Apostle Phillip and Nikolas the Great Miracle-Worker for subsequent 175 years and an iron klepalo has been used instead’. The inventory of the church possessions of Zverin Monastery dated 1682 mentions a ‘board of iron’ used as klepalo. However, chronicles written before the XVI century also refer to assembly bells and the bells of Korsun  , and those written in the XIV and XV centuries mention church bells as well. As we know, the first of them was founded by Boris, a casting master from Moscow, under the order of Archbishop Vasily of Nocgorod, for the Novgorod Sofia Cathedral in 1342. In the XV century, Archbishop Ephimy ordered to cast bells not only for the churches but also for clock towers.
We have quite a few bells dating back to the XVI and XVII centuries. Some of them bear inscriptions in Russian or in foreign languages indicating Russian or Western casting masters. The bells are usually cast of the so-called bell copper, which has 78% of pure copper and 22% of tin, but sometimes they were made of cast iron, glass, clay, wood and even silver. Thus, in Beijing, China, there is an iron bell cast in 1403; in Uppsala, Sweden, there is a glass bell with a wonderful voice; St Vlasius’ Church in Braunschweig, Germany, has a very rare, allegedly 300-year-old, wooden bell, which was once called the Holly Friday Bell — it was used by Catholics to ring during the Holly Week; several undated clay bells made by unknown masters are kept in Solovetsky Monastery in Russia.
Bells are subdivided into many types, and consequently have many names. Currently, we know nabatnye (alarm), vechevye (assembly), krasnye (red), tsarskie (royal), captive, exile, blagovest, polyeleion, gilded and even bast bells. Besides there are small hand-bells called kandya or zvonets. They are used to let the bell-ringer on the belfry know that it’s time to ring.
The first Moscow nabatny, i.e. alarm bell, hung in the Kremlin, in a wall tabernacle or half-turret  near the Spasskaya (Saviour) Tower Gate. It was also known under the names of tsar’s bell, warden’s bell and fire bell. The bell was rung at the times of enemies’ approach, mutinies or fire and its ringing was called ‘vspolokh’ (ringing of fire bell) or nabat (ringing of alarm bell)  . Some sources say that originally the half-turret accommodated the famous veche (assembly) bell, which was brought to Moscow from Novgorod the Great by Ioann III after the latter had subjugated it. There is a supposition that the Novgorod Veche Bell was recast into the Moscow Nabatny or Vspoloshny Bell in 1673. In 1681, following the order of Tsar Feodor Alekseevich, the bell was exiled to Korelsky Nikolaevsky Monastery (which became a burial place for the children of Marfa Boretskaya, the Novgorod posadnitsa- governor of medieval Russian city-state) for frightening the Tsar with its ringing at midnight. The bell bears the following cast inscription: ‘This 150-pood (2,520kg) alarm bell of the Kremlin-town Spassky Gate was cast in the year 7182 on the 25th day of July’.
It is supplemented by another carved inscription, which runs as follows: ’On the 1st day of March of the year 7189, by the personal order of the Great Monarch and Grand Duke Feodor Alekseevich, Autocrat of all Russias, this bell shall be sent to the sea-coast, to Nikolaevsky-Korelsky Monastery for the monarch’s perrenial health and for his royal parents’ eternal commemoration in Hegumen Arseny’s priorship’.  .
According to old Moscow residents, another alarm bell, which replaced the first Spassky Gate alarm bell, and is now kept in the Kremlin Armoury was executed by the order of the Russian Empress Catherine II: it lost its tongue (clapper) for calling people to rebel during the Moscow riot of 1771. The mute bell hung in the bell-tower till 1803, and then it was taken down and placed in front of the stone tabernacle near Spassky Gate together with big cannons. When the tabernacle was demolished, the bell was first kept in the arsenal and then transferred to the Armoury. The inscription on the bell says: «On the 30th day of July of the year 1714 this 108-pood (1,814.4kg) alarm bell was cast from the old broken alarm bell for the Kremlin-town Spassky Gate. The bell was cast by the casting master Ivan Matorin».
Apart from alarm bells, many towns on the Russia’s southern and western borders and later in Siberia had signal bells. They were used to warn the inhabitants of the enemy’s advance. We must also remember about Novgorod and Pskov veche (assembly) bells. The latter were not remarkable for their size. At the beginning of the XVI century there were no bells with the weight of over 250 poods (4,200kg). It follows from an old chronicle, which tells about Blagovestnik Bell cast in 1530 for St. Sofia Cathedral by the order of Archbishop Makary: «The newly cast bell was very big — bigger than any other bell not only in Novgorod the Great but also in the whole province. Its sound is similar to the terrible trump of doom». 
Krasny (red) bells were the bells with the red chime, i.e. the bells, which possessed a beautiful delightful and cheerful sound; the words red — ‘krasny’ and beautiful ‘krasivy’ have the same root in Russian, so the name ’red bells’ is the same as ’beautiful and melodious bells’.
In Yushkov Pereulok in Moscow there is a church called St. Nikolay’s Church at the Red Bells, which has been famous for its ’red chime’ for over two centuries. Another church with a good campanile, Voznesenie (Ascension) Church, can be found in Nikitskaya Street not far from Neglinnaya Street. However, the best-toned bells in Russia are those of the Rostov Cathedral.
Its campanile is remarkable for its construction, as well as for its bell chimes or ‘zvons’. Rostov bell peals are named after their founders and owners: Ionin Bell Peal is named after Metropolitan Iona Sysoevich, who governed Rostov Metropolitanate from 1652 till 1691; Georgievsky Bell Peal, which is believed to be the best among Rostov bell rings, belonged to Archbishop Georgy Dashkov, who governed Rostov Diocese in 1718–1731, after the Metropolitanate had been abolished; Ioakimovsky Bell Peal was named after Archbishop Ioakim, 1731–1741.
The bells are hung in a line strictly in accordance with their weight: the first weighs 2,000 poods (33,600kg), the second — 1,000 poods (16,800kg), the third — 500 poods (8,400kg), etc., the last weighing 20 poods (336kg). All in all there are thirteen bells. The bell-ringers stand so as to see each other and play in time with each other. It is one of the conditions of harmony. Metropolitan Platon, who had come to Rostov with a purpose of listening to its famous bell chimes, said that he wanted to have similar chimes in Bethany. However, he was advised to get a similar campanile with similar bells first. The historical Rostov bells are: Sysoy, Polyeleini, Swan, Golodar, Ram, Krasny, Billy Goat and Yasak.
Many Russian churches, especially in the Province of Petersburg, in Moscow and in Siberia have the so-called ‘captive’ bells on their belfries. Thus, the Porcelain Works outside Nevskaya Gateway in St. Petersburg have a wonderful old 30-pood (498kg) Swedish bell with the following inscription: ’Soli Deo gloria. Gloria in excelsis Deo. Me fundebat anno 1686 Holmiae Misael. Bader’ (Glory to God alone. Glory to God in the highest. Cast in 1686 by Michael Bader from Stockholm).
Some people say it was found in the ground during the construction of the stone church in the place, which had once been occupied by a Swedish Lutheran Church. Others are sure that it was captured by Emperor Peter the Great from the Swedes during one of his military campaigns. There are several ‘captive’ bells among the Moscow bells as well. One of the most remarkable is an old polyeleion bell  with the letters E. and G. and with a bit confusing inscription, which says: ‘Espoir en tout… de ce cloche es Chenaem st. tasen fraci’.
This ancient bell hangs on the tower-bell of St. Nicolas’ Church in Yushkovsky Pereulok. The cathedral bell-tower in Krasnoyarsk has a bell, which is all covered with some oriental characters. According to the legend, it once belonged to a Buddhist temple, but there are also other stories, which tell that it was found in a burial mound near a Minusinsk village about fifty years ago.
During the war fought by the Tsar Aleksey Mikhailivich against Poland, a lot of the conquered Poles and Lithuanians were sent to Siberia, and so were their bells. Some of the ‘captive’ bells got even as far as Eniseysk. However, after the war was over, and the two countries had concluded the Truce of Andrusovo, the Tsar issued another ordinance and the captives, both animate and inanimate headed back home. Yet, many of the Poles and Lithuanians chose to stay in Siberia and joined the police force or regular liner Cossack units. Some of the bells never went back to their native land . There are also several ‘exiled’ bells apart from the famous Uglitsky bell in Tobolsk. For the most part they were sent to remote monasteries by pious but enraged tsars.
In Siberia there are also tsarskie (royal) bells endowed by the Russian royals. Thus, many Siberian churches and monasteries received quite a few bells from Boris Godunov . Tsars Aleksey Mikhailovich, Feodor Alekseevich, Peter and Ioann also endowed bells to Siberian churches and monasteries. Three of those bells weighing 160 poods (2,688kg), 130 poods (2,184kg) and 40 poods (672kg) are cast: the first was cast in 1682 and the other two were cast in 1678 and arrived in 1680–1684. They have survived till today and you can still see them on St. Sofia Cathedral in Tobolsk. There was also a fourth 110-pood (1,848kg) bell donated by Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich in 1651, but it melted during a fire in 1688.
There is another 50-pood (840 kg) tsarski bell in Turukhansky Monastery sent by Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich in 1660, and four more bells in Kondinsky Monastery sent by Tsar Feodor.
As for the ‘gilded bells’ I can recall only six small bells weighing from 1 to 45 poods (756kg) in the Church of the Kazan Mother of God in the town of Tara, Siberia. They were gilded by a Tara citizen Semyon Mozhaitinov in connection with the following event. His beloved brother, who had gone to the steppe on some mercantile business, was captured by the Kirghiz. When Semyon learnt about it, he made a vow to gild the church bells if his brother safely returned home from captivity.
When the brother finally returned, the ardent brotherly love made Semyon keep his word. However, other sources claim that Semyon Mozhaitinov gilded the bells for the love of church splendour. Bast as well as ‘ear-torn’ bells belong to the so-called disgraced or exiled bells category. Bast bells are those bells that had been first broken and then put together with a bit of bast.
S. V. Maksimov told me that one of the monasteries in Kostroma or Vyatka Province has a bast bell, which was sent there from Moscow by Tsar Ivan the Terrible The best bell foundries are in Moscow, but there are also bell foundries in Kostroma, Valdai, Voronezh, Petersburg, Tagil in the Urals and Eniseysk in Siberia. Moscow foundries on the Balkan have been famous for about three centuries. The oldest of them are Samgin’s and Bogdanov’s foundries. The latter is especially remarkable for the fact that the majority of Moscow bells were cast there.
Once it was owned by the famous casting master Matorin who cast the ancient Tsar Bell. After that, the foundry went to Slizov, then to Kalinin, and finally, in 1813, to M.G. Bogdanov, who cast and lifted the big Moscow 4,000-pood (67,200kg) bell to Ivanovskaya Bell-Tower. The bells cast at Moscow foundries are so good that the foundries get orders even from the most remote places in Siberia and from foreign countries. The bells are made only from top-quality copper and sometimes from old bell scrap.
Up to three cubic sazhens (7.2m3 of fire-wood are burnt to melt 100 poods (1,680kg) of copper; 10 cubic sazhens (23.4m3) — to melt up to 1,000 poods (16,800kg) of copper and up to 30 cubic sazhens (72m3) — to melt 10,000 poods (168,000kg) of copper. When the copper has melted the casting masters add tin in the proportion of 22 pounds of tin per each 100 pounds of copper stirring the copper thoroughly. Some of the on-lookers make their offerings by throwing in some silver into the molten metal, while crossing themselves piously; others do it because they believe that silver improves the sound quality.
In Russia, bell casting is accompanied by a special ceremony. Prior to the casting, the proprietor brings an icon into the foundry shop and light candles. After that, all the people in the foundry begin to pray: the proprietor says a special prayer, appropriate for the occasion, and the casting masters and workers repeat the prayer after him. Once the prayer is over, all the doors are shut and the proprietor makes a sign to the casting team.
Several workers take the lever, sway it to give the necessary momentum and punch a tap hole in the hearth bottom. The molten copper spurts out of the hole in a fiery stream. This part of the casting process requires all workers’ skill and agility for they have to make sure that the alloy flows into the form smoothly and evenly without overflowing from the runners; otherwise half of it will flow out and spread over the ground. It will be a real disaster, since if they run short of metal even for half of the bell’s bearings they will have to recast the bell.
Following an ancient tradition, when casting a bell, the casters spread most absurd rumours, known under the name of ‘bell tales’. The police repeatedly told off foundry proprietors for spreading rumours and made them sign written promises not to do it in future. However, every time a new bell was cast, the centuries-old tradition came to life in a more preposterous form than before. One of the most absurd rumours spread by the bell casters was mentioned by A.P. Milyukov in his memoirs. It runs as follows:
‘Once there was a wedding in Pokrovka. When the priest was taking the wedding couple around the lectern, the wedding crowns flew off their heads to the cupola, flew out of the cupola windows and descended right under the cupola and the bell-tower crosses. The rumour quickly spread around Moscow and many people believed it. The square in front of the church was packed full with the carriages of the gapers who came to see the scene of the incident. Romantically-minded purveyors of this gossip also added that the bride and the groom who turned out to be brother and sister were unaware of that fact and that only the miracle prevented them from entering into a sinful marriage’.
Another equally outrageous and absurd rumour spread by the casters ran as follows. It was said that the Moscow Governor-General was giving a ball on the eve of a great church holiday, allegedly, on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. Half of the Moscow nobility had been invited to the ball. The house was alight with numerous candles. The dances went on all night and when the ball reached its culmination, and the music grew almost thunderous, the guests heard the big bell on Ivanovskaya Bell-Tower ring for the morning service.
At the first solemn chord of the bell, all the chandeliers and girandoles in the Governor’s house suddenly went out; all the strings in the musical instruments broke; the glass from the double-windows fell out into the street with a tinkling sound and in the darkness that followed waves of frosty air rushed into the room and enveloped the open necks and shoulders of the dancing women. There was an outburst of panic. Screaming with terror, the crowd of frightened guests rushed to the doors, which slammed in their faces and remained shut until the ringing of the church-bells in the Kremlin subsided, in spite of all the frantic attempts to open them. By way of a poetic addition it was also said that some of the guests and the host were found frozen or crushed to death.
The casting process demands that the cast bell should be left in the ground for several days until it completely cools off. Once the bell has cooled off, it is dug out, carefully freed from the upper shell, which is broken with all the possible precautions, and transported to the grindery, where it is rounded off with grinders. When this operation is finished, the bell is ready. After that, the casters call the priest who conducts a dedication service. In the special prayer said during the bell consecration service the church prays for sending down a special grace, which would endow the bell with a unique force «to make faithful servants of God who hear it strengthen their faith and devotion and bravely repulse all the devil’s slanders… and to calm storms, hail, whirlwinds, thunders and lightnings, and vicious air with its sound» and so on.
The most valuable bells are those that have a thick, deep and strong booming sound. This characteristic depends on the comparative thickness of the bell’s edges and of the rest of its body. Thus, if the edges are too thin the bell will have a clear voice, but the thin edges will cause the sound to break; contrastingly, if the edges are too thick the sound will be strong but short. The sound of the bell consists of three separate tones: the first tone is represented by the ringing sound, which is the leading and the best heard.
We can hear it right after the blow. If the ringing sound is thick, deep, long and if it is not muffled by other side-tones, the bell’s rating is the highest. The quality of this sound depends on the mathematically correct and proportional thickness of all the bell parts and is caused by the vibration of the metal particles mostly in the bell’s central portion. The second tone represents the booming sound, which follows the blow but can be clearly heard only some time later. The booming sound does not spread as far as the peal, but it lingers in the air longer: the stronger is the booming sound made by the bell, the higher is the bell’s rating.
The booming sound is caused by the vibration of the metal particles in the bell’s edges, or, to be more exact, in the bell’s lower portion. Consequently, the thicker are the edges, the stronger is the booming sound. However, if the edges are too thick the booming sound will not be heard at a long distance. The third tone represents a clinking sound, which is caused by the vibration of the metal particles in the bell’s upper portion. This sound is rather unpleasant, and the thicker are the bell’s upper portion, bottom and bearings the more clearly it is heard.
In small bells, clinking merges with ringing and can hardly be heard at all. In bigger bells it is quite strong and shrilly. Thus, in quiet weather, the clinking tone of the big Moscow bell can be heard in the radius of 2 versts (3.2km) unmuffled by the ringing of all the bells in the area. To eliminate or, at least, to soften this defect the bell’s crown and bottom are made as thin as possible, usually two or three times thinner than the edges. If the bells dimensions are correct, and the coppertin ratio is mathematically accurate, the sound of the bell, i.e. the combination of the above three major tones, can reach extraordinary purity and sonority.
Such bells are very rare. Only two of the existing bells are famous for the beauty of the sound. They are Simonovsky Sunday bell in Moscow and a big Savvino-Storozhevsky Bell in Zvenigorod. Simonovsky Bell weighs one thousand poods (16,800kg). It was cast by the «casting master Kharitonka Ivanov, Popov’s son with his companion Pyotr Kharitonov, Durasov’s son on 30 September of the year 7186 from the date of the Creation and of the year 1667 from the date of the Nativity of Christ in the reign of the Pious Great Tsar and Grand Prince Feodor Alekseevich». The inscription on the bell says that the bell was cast to proclaim and glorify Lord Almighty in his Holy Trinity and in honour of the Incarnate Word of God; it was cast for Simonov Monastery Assumption Church to call faithful Christians to the temple, to praise God’s grace and to pray for the alleviation of hardships’.
The famous bell of Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, which weighs 2,450 poods and 30 pounds (40,740kg), was cast by the casting master Grigoriev on 15 September, 1667. Apart from the perfect sound it is remarkable for two cast inscriptions. The upper inscription made in the Old Russian language consists of six lines that go round the bell?s body and can be easily read even today. It enumerates all the Russian royalties of that period with all their titles, as well as Ecumenical Patriarchs — the patriarch of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Antioch and the Patriarch of Moscow.
The lower inscription, which goes around the bell’s edge in three lines, is made in cryptographic or secret writing. For the most part, this type of writing was used in diplomatic correspondence and sometimes it was used in private notes on more or less important subjects, which the author wanted to make inaccessible for the contemporaries and, at the same time, preserve for the descendents. At first glance, all the letters are Slavonic, but a more close study reveals some additional lines, dots or other features that render them absolutely incomprehensible, since in these Russian ‘hieroglyphs’ every specific diacritic sign has a special meaning.
The cryptographic inscription from this bell was first copied by the historian Miller and published by the librarian of the Russian Academy of Sciences Bakmeister, but remained undecoded till 1822. It was finally read by the archaeologists Skuridin and A. I. Ermolayev.
There is a supposition that the inscription had been approved by the monarch himself — the casting master would not have dared to decorate the bell with an inscription made of unreadable signs, which could be interpreted as ‘magic practices’. According to the inscription, the bell was paid for by the Tsar, who being a pious man, did not want to publicise his offerings during his lifetime.
The art of bell-ringing very much depends on skill and experience. There are two major bell-ringing techniques: the bell can be rung either by swaying the clapper or the bell itself. The latter method is currently used only in Western Europe, but in the old times it could be found in our country as well — thus, it is still in use in some Polish Roman Catholic Churches in Kiev.
The sound produced by swaying the bell itself is far more harmonious and generally pleasing. Strong and quick ringing often affects the bell-ringer’s hearing dramatically, so many of them tap years with rounded berries: rowan berries, arrow-wood berries or cranberries, not to become deaf; others just tap their ears with cotton. In nunneries, women bell-ringers ring bells with a mouth open. Russia remains unrivalled when it comes to full peals.
However, England has remarkably good bell-ringers as well. In Russia a good performance is achieved by a skilful chain-ringing of six, seven, nine and even thirteen bells carried out with quite an even timing marked out by more or less quick strokes of the big bell. Today, bells-ringers do not play hymns or prayers, whereas in the old times, in some churches, bell-ringers used to play ‘O Lord, Have Mercy on Us’, ‘Holy God’, etc. from music.
Stories told by old people prove it. Father Aristach Izrailev, the protoiereus (senior priest) of Rozhdestvensky (Nativity) Monastery in Rostov, described the wonderful and unique Rostov Chimes, including Sysoevsky, Ioakimovsky, Egorievsky chimes and a couple of weekday chimes. He gave their scientific description and set them to music. Detailed description of Father Izrailev’s acoustic research was published in the Proceedings of the Department of Physical Sciences of the Imperial Society of Natural Sciences, Volume I, Section 2.
Tsar Feodor Alekseevich liked to ring bells. When the great Suvorov lived on his family estate, he used to climb to the church belfry and ring the bells to the great surprise of the clergy and the parishioners of Konchanskoye village.
Modern England is unrivalled when it comes to the art of bell-ringing. It has the so-called societies of bell-ringers, whose history goes back centuries. The oldest and the most remarkable of them is the Cumberland Society of Bell-Ringers in Norwich, where the art of bell-ringing has been mastered to perfection. Another outstanding society is the London Club of Bell-Ringers, which suggests bell-music tasks and sometimes offers huge rewards for their solution. Other cities and towns, such as Westmerland, Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, etc. can also boast of artistically inclined bell-ringers, who often give bell-ringing concerts.
During these concerts they do not perform oratories, but ring different combinations, which require the use of a certain number of bells. Thus, in 1796, the members of the Westmerland Bell-Ringers’ Club gathered on St. Mary’s Belfry in Condola, where they went on ringing for three hours and twenty minutes and performed all the possible combinations of number ‘seven’ on seven bells, i.e. 5,040 bell strokes, keeping pace with a chronometer all the time. In Birmingham a similar concert lasted eight hours and 15 minutes, during which the bell-ringers performed 14,224 strokes with the same chronometric precision .
In Western Europe, bells have always been treated with great respect. Catholics even used to baptize their bells: the bell had a godfather and a godmother and received a name, in the same way as a newly-born baby would.
The French King Henry IV issued an order, which forbade buying and selling bells but allowed bartering for them. The size of the bells was also subject to censorship. Thus, monasteries were strictly forbidden having the bells louder than the bells of the parish church. Foreign bells were often decorated with inscriptions, which usually spoke about the bell itself. The inscriptions were always laconic and meaningful. Thus, the inscription on the Shernborne Bell, England, which was given to the city by Cardinal Wolsey, says:
‘By Wolsey’s gift I measure time for all. To mirth : To Grieffe : To Church : I serve to call’. The Latin inscription on the Schafhausen Big Bell says: ‘Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulfura frango’, i.e. ‘I call the living, greet the dead and defeat the lightening’. Shiller liked this inscription so much that he used as an epigraph for his Song of the Bell. The big Paris Bell in the Notre Dame de Paris bears the following inscription: I sing to the glory of the veritable God, call people, call the clergy, mourn for the dead, drive away the pest and decorate the feasts’. Another inscription, below the first one says: ‘In the year 1683, Florentine de Gais, the Governor of Paris, cast me’.
The 900-pood (15,120kg) bell of the Rouen Cathedral, France, is believed to be the biggest in Western Europe. The bell of Vienne in St. Stephen’s Church cast by Emperor Iosif in 1711 from the cannons captured from the Turks in 1683 when the latter besieged Vienne is believed to be the second big. It weighs 885 poods (14,868kg); its clapper weighs 33 poods (554.4kg) and it is swung by 12 people. For the first time it was rung in 1712, on the arrival of Emperor Karl VI in Vienna. Next comes the Berlin Bell, which was cast in 1497 and christened Maria Gloriosa.
The bell weighs 690 poods (11,592kg) and has the following inscription: With my glorious praise I glorify the saints and tame lightening and evil demons by calling people to the temple for the holy psalms. Gerard Ioann Kampeisky cast me in the year 1497 after the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the most remarkable bell in terms of sound is the famous Erfurt Bell.
It is followed by Strasburg and Breslav bells, which weigh 20,400 pounds (9,261.6kg) and 500 poods (8,400kg) accordingly. Chinese and Japanese bells are known for their size, and they are very ancient too. In Miako, next to the major Buddha temple, there is a huge 5,000-pood (84,000kg) brass bell; in Beijing, three and four thousand pood (50,400–67,200kg) bells can be found in many places. However, the Tsar Bell in Moscow, Russia, is the biggest in the world.
In the first half of the XVI century, the site of Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower was occupied by the Church of St. John of the Ladder. It had a small 1,000-pood (16,800kg) Tsar-Bell ; cast by the order of Ivan the Terrible in the time of oprichnina. In 1654, Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich replaced it by a much bigger 8,000-pood (134,400kg).
The legend says that it was so big that nobody undertook to lift it, and it was not used till 1668, when it was finally lifted to the bell-tower by the Tsar’s doorkeeper — a gifted self-taught mechanic. The bell hung near Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower and was used until it cracked during the fire of 19 June, 1704, either from the heat or from the water, which was split on it while the fire was being put out. In 1731 it was taken down. In 1734 Empress Anna Ioannovna ordered to make the bell 1,000 poods heavier. It was planned to build a special small belfry adjoining Ivan-the-Great bell Tower to accommodate the huge thing. The Empress ordered Count Minich, the son of the outstanding field marshal, to get in touch with the famous Germain, a goldsmith and a member of the Paris Academy of Sciences.
This is what Minich wrote about his mission: ‘This artist was greatly surprised when I told him about the weight of the bell and at first he thought I was joking. When he made sure that it was a serious offer, he made a plan, in which he increased the difficulty of works and their cost to such extent, that the Empress rejected his plans’. The Artillery bell-maker Ivan Fyodorov Matorin undertook to perform the work. He was not in the slightest embarrassed on finding out that the bell was to weigh 12,000 poods (201,600kg).
Matorin and his team made a big casting pit in the Kremlin between Chudov Monastery and Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower. Matorin was given 14,124 poods and 29 pounds (237,296kg) of copper, including the old bell scrap, and 1,000 poods (16,800kg) of tin. The first attempt failed. After re-weighing the alloy, it appeared there were 14,814 poods and 21 pounds (248,884.7kg) of metal to which the State Treasury added another 498 poods and 6 pounds (8,369kg) of tin. The copper added to the old bell has been brought from Siberian plants. It contains silver and gold inclusions, hence the whitish colour of the bell.
Chemical research carried out in 1832 showed that one pood (16.8kg) of the copper-and-tin alloy contained 35/96 zolotniks (1zolotnik = 4.6gr) of gold and 31 3/96 zolotniks of silver. According to the results of other researches the contents of gold and silver in the bell exceeds the announced amount by three times.
The unused metal left after the successful second casting amounted to 2985 poods and 8 pounds (50,152kg). From the above it follows that the ready bell weighed 12,327 poods and 19 pounds (207,093.6kg) . It was raised over the pit and hung on special props. On the Trinity Day of 1737, a fire that started in the house of a retired warrant officer Alexander Miloslavsky from a neglected 1-kopek candle lighted by a certain Maria Mikhailova in front of a holy image, devastated Moscow and the Kremlin. The bell props were damaged by fire and bell fell into the pit, cracked and a big piece fell off from the bell’s edge. Nobody knows whether the crack resulted from the impact, or from the contact with cold water, which was poured into the pit to put out the fire. One thing was evident — it was unfit for ringing.
Empress Elisaveta Petrovna wanted to recast the bell once again. However, she thought that the estimate of costs, which amounted to 107,492 roubles 47 ’ kopeks (against 62,008 roubles 09 kopeks, excluding the cost of the metal, spent on the second casting) was too big, and the giant remained in its pit. In the years that followed, there were many projects connected with the giant bell’s rescue: In 1770, architect Forstenberg was going to solder the broken edge; in 1797, mechanic Guirt was commissioned to make a plan for extracting the bell from the pit; in 1819, General Betancour commissioned architect Montferrand to examine and describe the bell; after that, the bell was examined by Engineering General Fabre.
When Emperor Nicholas I learnt about a new method of bell repair he decided to get the bell out of the pit, repair it and mount it to a special bell-tower built for that occasion. However, the unusually big size of the bell made him put off those plans. Meanwhile, the huge pit marred the view of the Kremlin ensemble. The Tsar Bell was buried in a deep pit in front of Chudov Monastery. The pit was covered with wooden decking, which had a lifting door. The key was kept by Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower bell-ringers. Those who wanted to see the bell had to descend into the pit by steep wooden stairs in company of a guide who lead the way and lighted the path with a lighted lantern.
In 1836 it was ordered to get the bell out of the pit and mount it to a granite pedestal next to Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower. Montferrand was placed in charge of this work, and after one failed attempt, the bell was finally raised from the pit on 23 July, 1836, with the help of twenty winches. On 26 July it was removed to the pedestal, where we can still see it today. The bell’s crown is decorated with a gilded ball and a cross; a gilded inscription on a marble plaque says: ‘This bell was cast in 1773 by the order of Empress Anna Ioannovna; it has spent one hundred and three years buried; and on the 4th day of August of the year 1836, it was lifted by the will and order of the most pious monarch, Emperor Nicholas I’.
The inscription on the pedestal was suggested by architect Montferrand and contains two serious mistakes. First of all, the bell was not cast in 1733 — the Senate received a corresponding order on 26 July, 1730. In the January of 1734, the Senate’s Office reported that the core and case of the future bell were ready and asked for the permission to start the baking and casting. Consequently, the bell was cast in 1734, but since the first attempt fail, it was finally cast in 1735. Secondly, the bell had not been buried for 103 years.
The Big Moscow Fire occurred in 1737 — this is the year when the Tsar Bell fell into the pit; it was lifted from the pit in 1836, which means that actually, it had been buried in the pit for 99 years.
The Tsar Bell bears two inscriptions. Today, we can see just a few words from the first one and not a single complete word from the second. However, we have their exact printed copies, which were published in the «Mining Journal», 1833, Volume I. The first inscription runs approximately as follows: ‘By the order of Blessed and Ever-Worthy of Memory Great Duke Aleksey Mikhailovich, Tsar and Autocrat of all Russias, a great bell of eight thousand poods of copper was cast for the Church of the Glorious Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God in the year 7162 of the Creation and in the year 1654 from the date of the Nativity of Christ, the Logos; and this bell began to ring for the church in the year 7176 of the Creation and in the year 1668 from the Nativity of Christ and rang for the church till the year 7208 of the Creation and 1704 from the Nativity of Christ, when on the 19th day of July it was damaged by a great fire, which occurred in the Kremlin; and till the year 7239 of the Creation remained voiceless’.
The second inscription says: ‘By the order of the Most Pious and Autocratic Sovereign, Her Majesty Empress Anna Ioannovna, Tsarina and Autocrat of all Russia this bell was cast for the Church of Assumptionfor the glory of Hole Trinity from the copper of the former eight-thousand-pood bell damaged in the fire and additional two thousand pood in the year 7242 of the Creation, the year 1734 from the date of the Nativity of Christ, the Logos, and in the fourth year of her Majesty’s happy reign’.
The upper portion of the bell is decorated with the images of Moscow miracle workers; its central part bears the images of the royal family; Empress Anna Ioannovna is depicted standing: however, only her head with a crown can be seen quite clearly. The total height of the bell together with the pedestal reaches 34 feet; the height of the bell itself is 20 feet and 7 inches; the width at the opening is 22 feet and 8 inches. The bell is beautifully shaped. The broken piece lies at the pedestal .
The biggest bell in Moscow can be found on Ivan-the-great Bell Tower. It is the so-called Uspensky or Festive Bell, which starts the ringing of all Moscow bells on the night of the Great Vigil of Easter. The bell weighs four thousand poods (67,200kg). It was recast in 1819 from the old Uspensky bell, which fell down in 1812, when the Napoleon Army blew up the Kremlin. Before recasting the bell weighed 3355 poods and 4 pounds (56,368kg). The old bell was cast by the order of the Empress in 1760 by the casting master Slizov.
According to the legend, it by far surpassed the new one. The bell features the Savior, the Holy Mother of God, John the Forerunner, Assumption of the Birth-Giver of God together with Peter and Aleksey, Moscow Metropolitans in the upper row of figures and the images of the Emperor Alexander I and the Royal Family beneath the images of the saints. The old bell featured the same saints and the portraits of Peter I, Catherine I, Elisabeth of Russia, Peter III, Catherine II and Paul I of Russia.
The raise of this bell was marked by the following incident which created quite a stir in Moscow. Even before the appointed date, Metropolitan Seraphim was informed that the hoisting tower, which Bogdanov had built in order to raise his big bell to Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower, was too flimsy and that the bars on the Bell-Tower, which were supposed to hold the bell, were unsafe as well. The rumours quickly spread among the Moscow population; so the Metropolitan asked the Moscow General-Governor to appoint an architect for the expert examination of the hoisting tower and the bell tower.
The officials commissioned by the Governor, Count A. P. Tormasov, for the task confirmed the rumours by issuing a report, in which they declared the hoisting tower and the bell tower bars unsafe. However, Bogdanov stood his ground and vouched for the safety of his constructions. His self-confidence impressed the Metropolitan and the latter gave Bogdanov the permission to raise the bell as planned. On the appointed day, Metropolitan Seraphim arrived in Uspensky (Assumption) Cathedral.
The square in front of the cathedral was packed full. Suddenly, somebody reported to the Metropolitan that the cast-master was sitting on the steps crying bitterly. Seraphim became seriously annoyed — he thought that Bogdanov had lost faith in the success of the operation. He ordered to call the contractor, and when Bogdanov came up to the Metropolitan it turned out that he had been crying because everybody seemed to impede him. Having comforted the contractor, the Metropolitan consecrated the bell following the appropriate liturgical rule and blessed the raising. The bell started going upwards without a hitch and was half way up, when suddenly hysterical cries that Ivan-the-Great was unsteady and that the hoisting tower was about to come down were heard from the crowd.
They were joined by the shrieks of the terrified women and children, who were seized with panic and started to run for their lives. The commotion that followed is hard to describe. Fortunately, the Chief of the Moscow Police A. S. Shulgin didn’t lose the presence of mind and rushed into the crowd trying to persuade people not to believe the tales spread by plunderers. Seeing that the hoisting tower was safe as safe could be and that nothing had happened to Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower, the people gradually came to their senses. Bogdanov had not lost his head and using a hand-bell and stick with an attached piece of white cloth commanded the actions of the workers who operated the hoisting winch. He succeeded in controlling his workers and prevented them from panicking and in this way managed to avert the disaster.
However, since the police force was insufficient and the pickpockets could make another attempt at causing the general commotion, the Metropolitan gave an order to suspend the works and to announce that the bell would be raised the next day. The crowd started to disperse, and when Bogdanov saw that there were just a few people left he commanded to continue the raise. Some minutes later, the bell was safely raised to the bell tower. On the same day, the Metropolitan invited Mikhail Gavrilov Bogdanov to dinner.
During the meal, Seraphim asked Bogdanov: «Well, what would you have done if I had not given you my permission for the raise and sent a paper to Petersburg asking for further instructions?» - «I had already made up my mind,“ — answered Bogdanov, — «I would have brought the bell at night and raised him anyway“. They say that a few minutes before the raise a famous foreign architect, who was sorry for Bogdanov, begged him to give up the whole business and tried to convince him that the bell was too heavy to be raised. Bogdanov was reported to reply: «Come to ring this bell tomorrow».
Three more splendid historical bells are kept in the so-called Filaret Extension. The total number of the bells on this bell tower amounts to 29. The biggest of the three historical bells is Reut or Polyelaion called so by the order of Patriarch Ioakim issued in 1689. The inscription on the bell says: «By the grace of God and the order of the Tsar and Autocrat of all Russia the Grand Duke Mikhail Fyodorovich and on the blessing of his Royal Father by birth and his spiritual father and Devotee, Holy Patriarch Filaret Nikitich of Moscow and of all Russia, this bell was cast for the Cathedral Church of Assumption of the Most-Pure Mother of God and of the Great Miracle Workers Peter and Iona in the year 7130 (1622) by the cannon master Andrey Chekhov».
Supposedly, this bell weighs about 2,000 poods (33,600kg). Reut is remarkable for the fact that when the French Army blew up the Kremlin in 1812, the bell only lost its bearings, which were later skilfully reattached to it. The bell itself did not suffer and preserved its sound.
Vsednevny (Everyday) Bell was named so by the same Patriarch Ioakim in 1689. It was originally cast in 1652 by the casting master Danilov and weighed 998 poods and 30 pounds (16,780kg). Unfortunately, later it turned out that the bell had a crack, so in 1782, Empress Catherine II ordered the casting master Yakov Zavialov to recast it. Now, according to the inscription it bears, the bell weighs 1017 poods and 14 pounds (17,092kg).
The Sunday or Semisotenny Bell was cast in 1704 by Ivan Matorin. It weighs 798 poods (13,406.4kg).
Other interesting bells in the bottom tier are: a 450-pood (7,560kg) Medved (Bear) Bell recast in 1775 from the ancient (1501) Novgorodsky bell; a 457-pood (7,980kg) Lebed (Swan) Bell, which was originally cast in Moscow in 1532 and recast in 1775 in the same shape and of the same weight. Apart from the usual inscription, it bears the following foreign addition: «Nikiwasobraker, 537». Another historical bell is known under the name of Novgorodsky. The bell bears the following inscription: «In the year 7064 (1556) on the 8th day of September on the Day of the nativity of the Holy Mother of God in the reign of Tsar Ivan Vasilievich under the supervision of Metropolitan Makary of all Russia, this bell was cast for the blessed city of Novgorod the Great for the Cathedral Church of St. Sofia of the God’s Wisdom». The bell’s crown has another inscription, which says that it was recast in 1730 and that its weight is 420 poods (7,056kg). It was once assumed that this bell was the famous Nizhegorodsky Vechevoy (Assembly) Bell, but it was a wrong assumption, since, as we have seen earlier, the latter was recast into Nabatny (Alarm) bell of Moscow.
Shiroky Bell was cast in 1679. It weighs 300 poods (5,040kg). The other bells in this tier are Slobodsky, which weighs 309 poods (5,191kg) and which was recast in 1614 from an old suburban bell, and Rostovsky with an inscription, which says that it was cast in 1687 by the casting master Philip Andreev for Belogostinny Monastery of the Rostov eparchy.
The middle tier has the following ancient bells: New or Uspensky Bell cast in 1651; Bezymenny (Nameless) Bell with an inscription in a foreign language; Danilovsky Bell, which according to the legend was cast in Pereslavl-Zalessky in 1678; Glukhoy (Deaf) Bell cast in 1621; Korsunsky bell, called so because it was recast from an old Korsunsky bell by the order of Ivan the Terrible in 1559 by the casting master Nester Ivanov Pskovitinov. There is another bell called both Bezymyanny and Mariinsky, whose inscription runs as follows: «This bell was cast in the year 7176 (1663) on the 23rd day of March for the Church of the Venerable Maria of Egypt in the blessed memory of the boyar Boris Ivanovich Morozov and his wife». There are five more chain-ringing bells in this tier. One of them bears an inscription, which says that in 1697 the bell was given by stolnik (a rank lower than a boyar) Lyapunov to the village of Troitsky, his patrimonial estate in district of Kolomna.
The top tier houses ten more bells. Four of them have historical value, including two Korsunsky zazvonny or soprano bells, which have a whitish colour and a harsh sound, probably due to a high silver content. It is believed that these bells were brought to Moscow by a Greek Metropolitan when Moscow took the place of Kiev and gave asylum to the Greeks persecuted by the Turks. In 1775 the bells were recast.
The third bell is the so-called Arseniev bell, which has the following inscription: «In the year 7193 (1685) on the 13th day of March, this bell was given to the patrimonial estate of stolnik Dmitry Fedoseevich Arseniev — Porkovskoye Village of Solovsky Uyezd (district), Novgorodsky Province — to the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God guided by the priest Father Cyprian Kirillov by stolnik Dmitry Fedoseevich Arseniev in the memory of stolnik Fedoska Osipovich Arseniev». The fourth bell was cast at the expense of boyar Feodor Ivanovich Sheremetev in 1620.
We would also like to add that Ivan-the-Great Bell Tower has 409 steps.