Ruination of church bells in 1920–1930

V.F. Kozlov

The essay of the well-known Russian writer and regional ethnographer M. I. Pylyaev «Historical Bells» was written at the end of the 19th century. Could he foresee, what fate awaits these Russian national sacred things in the forthcoming decades? And what fight for their destruction will be unleashed by the new Bolshevik power at the turn of the twenties and thirties of the new century?

After October 1917, church bells in Russia became the object of continuous attacks. Two factors, ideological and economic, acted against them. One of the first Soviet decrees forbade the alarm ringing in order to exclude the possibility of call to the actions against the Bolsheviks. Moreover, the atheistic power which was aimed at the industrial-economic activity saw in the bells the desired non-ferrous metal.

As early as in 1919, the executive committee of Kostroma City Council requested Moscow’s permission to use the bells of nationalized monasteries for recasting into boilers for canteens. In the middle twenties, the Kostroma authorities began to implement their plan. In 1926, the bells were taken down from the Bogoyavlenskiy monastery. The architectural parts of the belfry were significantly destroyed. A little later, the belfry of the famous Ipatevskiy monastery was deprived of almost all its bells. The belfry was also broken when the heaviest bells were taken down. Later, the professional specialists learned the trick of breaking large bells directly on the belfry or even to blow them up into pieces by small directed explosions. Approximately at this time, the Pskov authorities melted a set of the earliest bells at the plant «Krasnyi Vyborzhets».

The destroyed bells included the early 16th century bells from the Mirozhskiy and Snetogorskiy monastyries and the Climent church in Zavelich’e. The agents of Mosprodtsvetmet, who were responsible for the utilization of bells, also required to remove the bells from the belfries of Pereslavl’- Zalesskiy monastery and Uspenski monastery-museum in Aleksandrov town. The Financial Division of the Moscow City Council also extended its tentacles to the bells. It was this division who in the middle of 1923 raised a question about gaining control of the bells of the liquidated churches. After hearing about this restorers made a decision: «In principle, do not object to the removal of bells from the constructions lacking any historic or artistic value, but recognize that it is necessary to get the approval of each particular case». However, the restorers could shield only their registered subjects, while, as it is known, no lists of protected bells ever existed in the restoration workshops and the museum subdivision of the M.D.P.E. (Moscow Department of People Education).

At the beginning of the atheistic bell war, the amount of free bells was rather limited, since the authorities could remove them only from the liquidated, i.e. closed churches. But from the middle twenties desiring to profit from church property the central authorities and people’s commissariats began to economically stimulate the closing of churches. Just then, the subdivisions of People’s Commissariat of Finances issued ominous instructions «About the order of the liquidation of the religious cult objects „, „About the order of the liquidation of church property“, etc. According to these instructions, the church articles from precious metals were transferred to Gokhran, and the historic or artistic values were given to museums. The objects that were not consecrated such as bells, chandeliers, bronze lattices, and candlesticks were subject to transfer to Gosfond and realization. A powerful stimulus for closing churches was the fact that 40 percent of the amounts received from the realization went into the local budget.

According to secret instructions, as early as in 1920s it was permitted to destroy a part of the cult property, which was converted into an essential article of income. This, in turn, encouraged the intensification of the atheistic policy as well as closing and destruction of churches. The fight against the bells was supported by People’s Commissariats of Justice and Internal Affairs, who sent the instruction „About the order of the use of belfries“ to all regional executive committees in spring of 1926. Now it wasn’t the churches who had the right of bell ringing, but the local authorities obtained almost unlimited rights to regulate this activity. The instruction said that the ringing, which was frequently not connected with any celebration, „disrupts the normal functioning of public law enforcement and, especially, constrains the life of urban settlements“.

The instruction forbade the accomplishment of alarms „for calling together the population to incite them to fight against the Soviet regime“, neither the use of bells was allowed for the ringing that was not directly connected with the services in the days of great Christian holidays: Easter, Christmas. The so called ”red” ringing with the use of large bells was permitted only during the Sunday and holiday services. And finally, the instruction said: „Upon the liquidations of praying buildings, the belfries belonging to them should be destroyed or, after the appropriate reconstruction, converted to fire-prevention observation posts, water towers[1]. Belfries with bells became substantially alienated from still functioning churches, and the ancient traditions of bell ringing were seriously undermined.

The Passion hour of bells themselves came in 1928–1929. Just at this time, a wave of repressions fell upon the church, its institutes, and clergy, and the wholesale destruction of churches began. The matter was aggravated by the fact that along with the militant atheists the industrial executives attempted to remove bells from belfries. The country, which declared unrestrained, unsupported industrialization, required an enormous quantity of nonferrous metal. Therefore, ideologists-atheists, leaders of industry, and local authorities were interested in the fastest liquidation of churches and utilization of the church property, first of all, bells.

It is impossible to conceal the role of the organized atheists in the forcing antireligious hysteria and the requirements of the countrywide prohibition of ringing and removal of bells. This action of the Union of the Militant Atheists (SVB) was initiated by inspirer and leader of the Union, E. Yaroslavsky. Making report at Executive Bureau of the SVB Central Council „About the five-year job schedule of atheists“ (1930) the main atheist of the country noted with a satisfaction: „Several years ago we very timidly planned the program of the fight against the bell ringing. At the session of antireligious commission even at a certain resistance of leading comrades we approved a resolution that it is necessary to develop a law following the established legal procedure. According to this law bell ringing in the places of the mass collection of workers and enterprises should be prohibited; not completely though, but forbiding the common „Red ringing“ and leaving the bells of the specific low weight, to ring in certain hours. Further, according to Yaroslavsky the events went in such a way that this minimum program was swept by the new facts of the requirements of entire cities such as Kostroma, Arkhangelsk, Yaroslavl’, Bryansk, Samara, Smolensk, where the resolutions about the removal of all bells were adopted[2].

Incited by the Center, the local authorities and workforce of factories and plants passed resolutions about the prohibition of bell ringing and the delivery of bells into the fund of industrialization. Competing with each other, the regional, town, and district authorities, even the village soviets excitedly made decisions about ceasing bell ringing and removing of bells. The bell ringing, which was customary to the orthodox inhabitants of Moscow, Ryazan’, Vladimir and to hundreds of other cities of Russia became silent at the turn of the 1930s. The VTsIK even considered the proposals about ceasing bell ringing over the entire territory of Soviet Russia. In 1928–1929, only in the Vladimir region 30 churches were closed, including 9 churches in Vladimir itself. By the middle of 1929, the bells from most of these churches had already been removed and transmitted to Rudmetalltorg for recasting. „In the recent two-three weeks, — wrote with the enthusiasm a certain A. Sorokin in the article «Vladimir atheists are attacking“, — several douzens of bells were removed from belfries. A 500-pood bell rumbled down and went into the earthlike a cone… A rapidly built pile driver raised a heavy 20-pood „ram“, which inexorably bit off 30- and 40-pood pieces“[3].

Analogous pictures could also be observed in other cities of Russia. The chairman of the Yaroslavl’ City Soviet, Vakhrev, at the beginning of 1930s wrote to All-Union Headman Kalinin: „On the initiative of the Yaroslavl’ labour masses, the City Soviet was addressed with the matter of the removal of church bells and their use for industry . On the basis of numerous resolutions and persistent demands of working masses on 12 November 1929 the plenum of Yaroslavl Sity Soviet delivered a verdict of the removal of church bells in the city and their transfer for the needs of industry.“ Six weeks later the plenum of City Soviet raised the matter for the second time with „a categorical requirement of putting the removal of bells into action“[4].

The regional and republic newspapers of late twenties – early thirties were filled with resolutions about recasting bells for tractors and other industrial needs. The calculations were published, in which the need for the melting of all bells was substantiated, and a real benefit from the bell metal was estimated. „Our grandiosely growing industry, — V. Shishakov wrote in 1930, — is suffocating because of deficiency in copper”[5]. The author asserted that while the annual need for copper reaches 60 thousand tons, only 27 thousand tons is produced. Evidently, Shishakov was strong in mathematics and calculated that about 250 thousand tons of bell metal is located on the belfries of Russia (assuming on the average from 5 to 6 tons per church, the number of which in the country was 45 thousand).

The negligible, according to the author, town Kashin potentially could give a large number of bells from its 36 churches, and only two largest bells of Troitse-Sergieva Lavra would enrich the industry of the USSR immediately almost by 100 tons! However, Shishakov complained that „the spontaneous mass movement for the curtailment of bell ringing, which flushed the USSR, wasn’t wholeheartedely supported by the some local authorities“.

However, there were many examples, which the Soviet Russia had to „follow“. The Stalingrad region, which delivered 90 tons of bells for recasting (from 15 city churches) at the end of 1929, was leading. Another combative agency was the Arkhangel’sk City Soviet, which forbade the bell ringing by a special resolution and launched a petition about the removal of bells (two years later following the example of Muscovites this City Soviet passed the resolution about demolishing the Cathedral and building the House of Councils in its place). The Samara authorities solved this problem more promptly. By the middle of January of 1930 they already removed bells from all churches of the city in order to direct the proceeds (300 thousand roubles) to the construction of the Palace of Culture.

In 1929, the Publishing House „Ateist“ issued 10 thousand copies of the book „Church bells at the service of the magic of tsarism“. Although its author, former professor of theology V. P. Gidulyanov, had collected sufficiently large factual material on the history of bells, the book was of exclusively atheistic nature. The editorial staff at the beginning of the book noted: «Year by year, the violent ringing becomes increasingly quieter and quieter. The time has come, when church bells should become finally silent in the entire land of the USSR, having unconditionally yielded to working factories and plant whistles. We are convinced that today’s matter, — indicated the unknown author of preface, — namely the matter of active atheists, should be the matter of the transfer of the hugest quantity of valuable metal — bells (which are still working to the benefit of exploiter classes) — to the blacksmiths of the decreed five-year plan, in order to raise our Soviet industry».

Gidulyanov proposed his methods of calculating the weight of all bells in regions. He turned out to be more enterprising than Shishakov, who required the immediate recasting of bells. „Currency is even more valuable for us“, — wrote Gidulyanov, indicating that in England and in other countries there are lovers of ringing, who are ready to pay well for the bells.“ The most expedient way of liquidating our unique bells is to export them and sell along with other objects of luxury, art and so forth“. While the bells, which are not uniquein Gidulyanov’s opinion, could be sent for remelting. For this aim, the electrolytic industry, which facilitates the extraction of chemically pure red copper, should be developed.

The prohibition of bell ringing and the real pursuit of bells became a sign of a “savoir faire”. The recently beloved bellswith their excellent form and sounding turned into the objects of hatred and attacks. «Bells, — complained V. Shishakov, — enormously hinder the normal flow of lessons and works in the establishments, educational institutions, hospitals, etc… Bell ringing at times literally tears up your ears“. The chime suddenly began to interfere with hospitals, plants and factories, schools, whose management and sometimes even employees began to complain to the administrative section of the Moscow City Council. Each such complaint frequently led to the closing of a church and removal of its bells.

The Museum division of Narkompros constantly made concessions under these intolerable conditions. The directive of 1927 allowed the melting of bells of the 19th – 20th centuries, while in 1930 according to Glavnauka’s authorization only some outstanding bells were guarded.

Russia was losing its bell wealth catastrophically fast. The withdrawal of bells from historical monasteries and churches of ancient cities was especially perceptible. In 1929, a huge 1200-pood bell was removed from the Kostroma cathedral and recast at the Tula foundry. In summer of 1931, many bells of Spaso-Evfim’ev, Rizopolozhenskiy, Pokrovskiy monasteries of ancient Suzdal were passed on to the Gosfond Commission of Ivanovo industrial region. Only small bells of 16th — 17th centuries were left on the belfries of these monasteries and parochial churches[6].

The destruction of bells in Moscow frequently coincided with the destruction of belfries. In twenties, the bells were taken and recast from Zaikonospasskiy, Pokrovskiy, Nikitskiy monastery belfries, which were destroyed according to the instruction of the Moscow City Council. One of those, who attempted to prevent the destruction of Moscow belfries and the breakage of bells, was K. K. Saradzhev, well-known composer and specialist in the bell ringing. This most important expert of all belfries and bells of Moscow and Moscow region proposed that authorities retain belfries and arrange bell concerts on them. «Bells, — wrote K. Saradzhev to Antiquariate, — represent the greatest artistic, musical and scientific value, and therefore in no way and by no means should be subjected to destruction“[7].

K. Saradzhev directed the letters in defense of bells to Moskommunkhoz and to the Administrative Division of the Moscow City Council.

Composer believed that the bells of Sretenskiy monastery have the best sounding and frequently rang them himself. Apparently, this irritated many executives of people’s commissariats. One of them, N.S. Popov, well-known fighter of the Moscow antiquities, wrote in 1927 to the Chairman of the Moscow City Council, K.Ya. Ukhanov: «In the yard, exactly in the place, where this devil’s chapel stands, where only cats and mice walk, another belfry stands, where a mad professor rings bells for various religious hymns..“[8]. Popov’s call with his straight characteristics in a Communist manner was understood, and in 1928 Moskommunkhoz destroyed the belfry and the old buildings of Sretenskiy monastery. The bells of remarkable sound were saved, although by the museum division of Narkompros.

One by one disappeared the tall Moscow belfries, which gave the unique appearance to the ancient capital. After a brief struggle, the Moscow City Council convinced Narkompros to break down one of the tallest and most shapely belfries of Simonov and Andronikov monasteries. Simonov monastery’s majestic belfry, nearly equal in height to Ivan Velikiy, from 1835 was excellently visible for all driving up to the capital along the Kurs and Ryazan railroads. On May, 1929, Glavnauka agreed to destroy this belfry as «not having any historical or archaelogical value“. Just a week later, the bells from this belfry were reserved in a special part of Gosfonds (Treasury Funds).

Eleven bells (including the largest bells of 1000, 750, 300 poods, etc., in weight) were subject to delivery according to a special act. Moreover, the largest bells were related to 17th century and had a historical value. Then the price was determined as 15 rubles for pood (in total, for a sum of more than 32 thousand rubles). On July 1929, the bells from destroyed belfries were passed on to Rudmetalltorg, which had to transfer 60 percent of their cost to the account of the M.D.P.E. Museum Subdivision[9]. The temptation to destroy the Moscow belfries was clear: the divisions of the Moscow City Council obtained a huge quantity of bricks and building material. But the main treasure, of course, was the bell metal. Indeed only two largest bells taken from the five-deck belfry of Andronikov monastery gave more than 1200 poods of nonferrous metal.

 The events in the largest Moscow monasteries can be called truly dramatic. It seemed that the establishment of history and art museums in them in the first years of the Soviet regime had to guarantee the inviolability of their remarkably ringing large bells. But it happened the other way round. The museum business in 1920–1930 to a considerable degree was deprived of budgetary financing and was maintained by special means. A large part of such means was added due to the sale of the so-called «non-museum property“, simply speaking, of the property of monasteries, i.e., the objects of 19th-20th, and sometimes also 18th centuries.

Such cynical requirements of financial organs reflected the government’s position on the national property. Let us open this unknown page of the activity of financial organs and museums, to whom the realization of church bells gave quite appreciable means. As early as in 1926, the Volokolamsk district Finance Department «laid an eye» on 16 bells of Iosifo-Volokolamskiy monastery, which included 500- and 250-pood bells cast in 1712. On July 1929, the first three bells of 133 poods in weight were subject to recasting along with other utilized property. Later the process gathered pace and by 1931 all monastery bells were passed on to Rudmetalltorg.

In January, 1930, the management of Savvino-Zvenigorodsky art and history museum began organizing the removal of bells from the high ancient monastery belfry by the order of the district financial organs and M.D.P.E. The removal was begun on January 15 by the workers of Rudmetalltorg. To avoid destruction of the belfry, large bells were broken into pieces and thrown down. The fragments of the 19th century bells of up to 800 poods in weight ended up on the ground. Although the museum asked to save the Kesariyskiy bell of 1781 for exposition, Rudmetalltorg took it away as well. However, a large bell of 1667 famous for its ringing and a small horologium bell of 1636 were left on the belfry. Unfortunately, at the beginning of World War II, this large bell of more than 2 thousand poods in weight was broken and destroyed under mysterious circumstances. In 1931, Rudmetalltorg took a 750-kilogram bell from the former Savvinskiy skete[10].

The history of distruction of famous bells of the Trinity-Sergiev Laura was even more tragic. The bells on the majestic 87-meter Laura’s belfry enraptured you by their size and the skill of bell casting. The largest bell – Tsar-Kolokol – cast on the Elizabeth’s order in 1748, was the largest bell in Russia (after two Kremlin bells). The enormous size and weight were also attributes of Dominical or Karnaukhiy bell (1270 poods), cast by famous F. Matorin in 1683 and named so because it had no copper cast ears. The Polieley (Godunovskiy) bell of 1850 poods in weight was cast during Tsar Boris Godunov’s lifetime in 1650. However, the oldest bells of Laura belfry were the Slavoslovnoy bell (Lebedok) of 625 poods in weight cast in 1594 and small 20-pood Nikonovskiy bell cast as early as in 1420, in the time of hegumen Nikon.

The small bells cast in 1598, 1649, 1662 large Panikhidnyy (1796), All-Day (Perespor, 1780), etc., were of great artistic and historical value. By the order of Glavnauka in the middle of November of 1929, the museum workers of Sergiyev museum with the workers of Rudmetalltorg began to prepare Tsar-Kolokol and six other large bells for dismantling with the exception of some most ancient ones. The truth is that the museum workers in no way agreed to the destruction of the Dominical (Karnaukhiy) bell cast in the 17th century. An enviable persistence was exhibited by the leaders of Moscow district Finance Department (Barishev, Svet), who also demanded from Glavnauka the removal of Karnaukiy , supporting this by the fact that «besides this bell, there are three other bells of the late 17th century in the Laura». Already at the end of November of 1929, the manager of the museum subdivision of the M.D.P.E., Klabunovskii, gave permission to Rudmetalltorg for the removal of Karnaukiy[11].

Many a man watched the death of the Russian pride ? bells of the first monastery in Russia, Trinity-Sergiev Laura. The illustrated printed official publications such as “Bezbozhnik” (Atheist), «Bezbozhnik u stanka” (Atheist at machine tool), “Ogonek” (Small flame) and others printed the photographs of the broken four-thousand-pood Tsar-Kolokol as well as the Karnaukhiy and Godunovskiy bells, and the smiling winners on them. The writer M. Prishvin, who was a witness of this tragedy, wrote in his diary: „On 11 (January 1930) they brought down Karnaukhiy. The bells died differently.

The Great Tsar, as the Great, commended itself to people and believed that they won’t do anything to it, yielded, descended onto rails, and rolled with enormous speed. Then it buried itself deep in the earth . The crowds of children came to it and all these days rang its edge, and inside they arranged a real children’s room. The Karnaukhiy, as if he had a presentiment, from the very beginning did not yield itself, it would either rock, or break the jack, or the wood would crack under it, or the rope would tear. And it unwillingly went to the rails; they dragged it with ropes… When it fell, it was smashed to smithereens. It clanked terribly, and suddenly everything disappeared: the Tsar Kolokol, as before lay in its place, and the fragments of Karnaukhiy rapidly ran to different sides from it over white snow[12].

Even more M. Prishvin was struck by the death of the Godunovskiy bell, thrown off the belfry at the end of January in 1930. In this event, Prishvin saw the death of an animate personality rather than of a gigantic piece of metal. At the end of 1930, Prishvin wrote in his diary: „The anniversary of the destruction of Sergiyev bells is approaching. This was very similar to the spectacle of public execution“. Earlier, he wrote to the editorial staff of the journal „Oktyabr’„: „A month ago I was the witness of the death of the most singular, even the only in the world, musical instrument from Rastrelli’s belfry: the greatest of the world bells of Godunov’s epoch were being taken down. There was no expediency in the material sense: 8 thousand poods of bronze could be collected from the usual bells. This act cannot be justified from the point of view of anti-religiosity, because bells at the dawn of human culture served not the church, but community….

But the „gloomy fanaticism“, which, according to M. Prishvin’s words, lives in the hearts of many representatives of power, already could not be stopped. The M.D.P.E. archives store a handwritten list of 1930–1931, which summarizes the stage of anti-bell campaign. In summary, according to this list, Rudmetalltorg got 19 bells of 8165 poods in weight from Trinity-Sergiev Laura, while only small bells made in 1420, 1598 and 1649, etc. were left in the Sergiyevskiy museum located in the monastery. This document says that all bells were taken from Simonov, Serpukhovskiy, Vladychnyi, Strastnoy, and Volokolamskiy monasteries. In the famous Voskresenskiy Novoiyerusalimskiy monastery, all bells were liquidated except one bell of 17th century. Only Moscow monasteries Donskoy and Novodevichiy were just preparing for the delivery of the bell tribute to the voracious Moloch of socialist industry. By the way, the bells were only a part of the utilized monastery property among the general flow of chandeliers and candlesticks, church silver vessels, gilded domes, iconostases and icon cases, numerous church vestments, coverings, etc.

Unlike the museums-monasteries devastated in 1929–1930, the parochial churches in Moscow and other regions of Russia sustained the bell liquidation process stretched for a number of years. But everywhere the period from the end of the first five-year plan to the beginning of the second one became fateful for the majority of the bells of Russia.

Moscow, perhaps, sustained the most terrible losses, since a great number of the large ancient bells connected with legends were located just on the Moscow belfries. Only in 1928–1930, about 80 churches were liquidated, whose bells were soon remelted. In the early thirties of the past century, 35–50 churches in the capital were closed yearly. But indeed from each liquidated church, the executives removed several tons of bells and nonferrous metal in the form of candlesticks, chandeliers, banners, fonts, bronze grilles, etc. Some famous Moscow churches immediately gave a huge quantity of bell metal. For example, 14 bells of more than 17 tons in weight were taken from the Church of Ascension which was closed in 1929 in the Bol’shaya Serpukhovskaya street, bells of more than 21 tons in total weight were brought out by the agents of Rudmetalltorg from the well-known large Zamoskvorech’ye church of St. Ekaterina, the church of Aleksy Mitropolit in the Kommunisticheskaya street closed in 1930 „gave“ more than 10 tons of bell bronze, and so forth.

The specialists from the restoration workshops attempted to save from the destruction at least the most remarkable bells. In 1931, when the bells of the Church of Trinity in Nikitniki were utilized, restorers managed to retain three small bells (out of 9) of the 17th century. However, when in the summer of 1931 the question arose about the fates of 11 bells with the ornament of the middle 18th century from the belfry of Zlatoustovskiy monastery in Moscow, restorers without resistance gave the green light to their utilization.

However, quite a few bells avoided remelting. Narkomfin, probably, listened to Prof. Gidulyanov’s recommendations about the benefits of selling unique bells abroad. „Recently, — indicated the M.D.P.E. leaders in 1931, — demand for the bells from the Gostorg Antiquariate is appearing. It is necessary to satisfy this demand“.

That is why Sretenskiy monastery’s uniquely melodious set of bells (about 400 poods in total weight) was rescued from recasting in 1930–1931. Then the museum workers themselves recommended transferring this set to an opera house or to the Antique Department. By the way, because a number of theatres were activу in the business of acquiring bells, several of these remarkable masterpieces were safe. Recently, it was the Academic Arts Theatre, which returned the bell, seized from the high belfry of Old Believer Rogozhskoe cemetery in the early thirties. The largest 16-ton bell of this belfry in 1933 was claimed by the Bolshoi Theater.

However, when theater-goers procrastinated, they were outmanoeuvred by the Electrical Machine Building Plant «Dynamo“, whose director persistently requested the cult commission of the Presidium of VTsIK (All-Russian Central Executive Committee in 1917–1936) to give them this bell. «The plant under my control, — Director of the plant wrote in the application, — is facing a great threat of disruption of the February program because of the absence of nonferrous metals for bronze castings for a whole series of urgent and extremely important orders (bronze inserts to the electric-locomotive engines for Suramskiy crossing, motor inserts for the ferrous metallurgy plants, bronze worm crowns for electric hoists for the equipment of ships, etc.)“

What did church bells mean in the years of the accomplishment of great utopias in comparison with the inserts, bronze crowns, and the worms of electric hoists! Apparently, this 16-ton bell also shares the unenviable fate of thousands of Moscow bells. But the Bolshoi Theater was also able to get hold of something. In August 1932, the Culture Commitee of the Presidium of VTsIK decreed that “21 bells of 421 poods in total weight from the churches located at the Nemetskiy market, in Kursk station, and in the Lubyanka square should be passed on to the Bolshoi Theater for free temporary use”[13].

A rather specific application of some Moscow bells was found in 1932, when Narkompros of the RSFSR asked VTsIK to allow it to use 100 tons of the church bells from 8 churches for casting bronze bas-reliefs for decorating the new building of Lenin Library. As is known, this new building work was regarded to be a top-priority project by a special decision of MK VKP(b) and Moscow City Council and it had to be completed to the 16th anniversary of October Revolution, including the completion of its Honor Building in Mokhovaya street to 1 May, 1933. On August 1932, the Commission of Cult Affairs (Smidovich, Orleanskii) asked the Secretariat of the Presidium of VTsIK to support the request of Narkompros. Unfortunately, we do not know, how was this matter developed in the highest legislative organ of the country.

The archive of the Commission of Cult Affairs stores the copy of the secret agenda of the VTsIK Secretariat session from September 5, 1932, in which it is written: «2. Petition of Narkompros of the RSFSR about the presentation it the possibility to use the bells from the buildings of the Moscow churches: Iakova po Yakovlevskoi, Nikolaya v Klennikakh, Voskreseniya and Uspeniya na Ostozhenke, and Nikolaya v Studentsakh for the manufacturing of bronze haut-reliefs for the finishing and revetment of the USSR Public Library building“[14]. It is unknown, whether or not this agenda was examined at the session, but many haut-reliefs soon appeared, and who knows, maybe the silent images of the great workers of the world culture were cast from the sonorous Moscow bells. The bells became the favorite «dainty“ of the local authorities, people’s commissariats, and departments. In the early thirties, the control over this process was already virtually lost.

This worried even the Commission of the Cult Affairs, which on May 1933 sent over regions the circular «Regarding the regulation of bell ringing and the removal of bells“ signed by its Chairman, the assistant of the Chairman of the VTsIK Presidium, P. Smidovich. In the circular, the serious mistakes in this field were recognized. The Commission worried that the local organs allow the withdrawal of bells unplannedly, prior to the resolution of the higher organs. «This most valuable metal grade is frequently used by local organs at their discretion rather than is accounted in Gosfond and is transferred to Trust „Metallom” (metal recycling enterprises)“. The circular provided to consider all bells throughout the entire territory of the RSFSR within a three-month period.

This was preceded by a secret session of VTsIK Presidium’s Commission for Cults on May 26, 1933, at which the ideologists of the atheistic policy: Smidovich, Krasikov, Oleshuk (Union of Militant Atheists), etc., and the representatives of Narkomfin and Trust „Metallom” were present. The main agenda item was the determination of the order of the bell bronze procurement. The resolution was very eloquent: „To permit the Commissions of Cult Affairs at Central Executive Committees of ASSR, krai- and oblast executive committees to transfer 2300 tons (from the total quantity) of the bells from praying buildings in the localities, where bell ringing is prohibited, to Metallom through the special divisions of state foundations according to its plan of the performance of the STO decision of May 14 this year about the procurement of 6300 tons of bell metal in 1933 and, in particular, about the procurement in the II quarter“.

 From now, the questions of the prohibition of ringing were solved in district and town executive committees with the subsequent assertion by Cultural Commission[15]. This decision and the circular issued on its basis actually pronounced a sentence of death upon church bells. Each republic and region, depending on the accounted bell metal, yearly and quarterly obtained allotment of the procurement of bell metal. It is possible to trace as this was actually embodied by the example of Moscow. Already in the middle 1933, the Presidium of the Moscow City Council and City Executive Committee, after hearing the May resolution of Culture Committee, decreed: „To permit transfer to Metallom through the special divisions of state foundations of Moscow City Financial Department, according to STO decision of May 14, 1933, 252 tons of bell metal from the Moscow churches, where the bell ringing is ended, according to the accompanying list“.

The list registered 20 Moscow churches doomed to the parting from their bells. For example, there were taken: 45 tons of bells from Vasiliy Kesariyskiy’s church on Tverkaya, 16 tons from the Church of Adrian and Natal’i on Meshchanskaya, 15 tons from the Church Nikita on Karl Marx street, 25 tons from Voskreseniya on Malaya Bronnaya, 15 tons from Voskreseniya in Vagan’kovskoe Cemetery, etc. The responsibility for the fulfillment of the decree was laid on Legenchenko, the authorized person of People’s Commissariat at the Moscow City Council[16].

For several years, almost everything that orthodox Russia cast with fear for several centuries was destroyed in a planned order. At the very beginning of thirties, the founding furnaces ingurgitated more than 100 bells from the belfries of ancient Novgorod, the same fate betided almost a half of Moscow Kremlin’s bells. Special brigades for the removal of bells were sent everywhere in the Moscow area and in other regions with the maps of „mop-up“ of the regions vested in them. This action was led by the State Trust for the procurement, processing, and supply of scrap metal („Metallom“), whose main office was in Moscow on Ogarev street.

But not everywhere the removal and breaking of bells was quiet and painless. This is evidenced by hundreds of complaints, which came to VTsIK from the believers of entire Russia. Frequently the removal of bells was similar to that described by believers of village Voskresenskoe on October 1933, when the chairman of the local Village Soviet declared that he does not consider it necessary to present the solution about the removal of bells, climbed up the belfry with an invited master, „smashed all bells into parts and put them together into a heap, the smashed parts are not taken until now“.

Sometimes such sacrileges concluded with tragedies. For example, according to the report of Kupriyanov, the acting Deputy Prosecutor of the RSFSR, a crew of regional «Tsvetmetallolom» on June 29, 1937, approached the removal of bells from the church of village Gubuzovo on the order of the Gusevskkii district Executive Committee of Ivanovo region. According to Prosecutor, a crowd of 300 people gathered in the church, took off workers’ tools, struck and insulted the chairman of Village Soviet Kurguzov, rang into the alarm, and sent out messengers into other villages. The authorities arrested 6 people, from whom five were women. But most of all, Prosecutor was flared by the fact that next day a miracle occurred in this rural church — several lampads spontaneously lit up[17].

Ivanovo region, as other regions of the center of Russia, was by that time thoroughly «cleaned“. For example, according to Ivanovo Executive Committee secretary’s report to Moscow, the remainder of bell metal in the region was 1 thousand tons.

Six decades passed after those terrible events, but the tragedy of the subsided voice of orthodox Russia even longer years will affect the reviving church life. It is possible to restore the destroyed buildings of churches on the photographs, to manufacture chandeliers, lampads and fonts, finally, it is possible, even to cast bells outwardly resembling the old ones. However, the main thing in the bell is its ringing, but until our time neither records of the ringings (they were not recorded) nor many fine secrets of masters, who upon casting gave bells the unique sounding generating in the believers reverential and devout relation to the church and service.

In the old times, upon epidemics and terrible devastators, bad harvests and other calamities it was prescribed to continuously ring into church bells. For a long time this was considered as usual prejudices. However, according to the recently published results of scientific studies, the timbre and vibration of bell ringing influences the entire living world surrounding us. From of old, it was noted that the lowest animals such as mice, rats, some insects fear it. Hating this sound, many carriers of diseases run away further from the belfry and the populated area. The purgatorian sound of church bells and pealing exerts good influence also on the people. That is why our ancestors loved it so much.

After many decades of persecution and destruction of national Russian sacred things, our debt is to care about the revival of bell traditions, to return the bygone glory of bell ringing. It depends on you and I, to fill our cities and villages with forgotten melodious and solemn chime, with which our fathers and great-grandfathers were born, lived, and died. Who knows, perhaps the orthodox music will help to clean and our souls from spite, envy, and impatiences, will help us to worthily survive these difficult for the Fatherland years?

Notes, References

The author of the article used the funds of the Commissions for the Cult Affairs at the Presidiuies of VTsIK and Moscow Regional Executive Committee, the documents of Moskomunkhoz, Central State Restoration Workshop, different State archives.

[1] GARF (the State Archives of Russian Federation), holding 5263, file 58, sheet 87
[2] Bezbozhnik (Christless), 1929, No. 6, p. 20
[3] Bezbozhnik (Christless), 1929, No. 6, p. 20
[4] GARF (State Archives of Russian Federation), holding 5263, file 7, sheet 18–19
[5] V. Shishakov, Bells for the industrialization// Antireligioznik, 1930, No. 2, pp. 19–22
[6] TsMAM (Moscow Central Municipal Archive), holding P-1, file 14, sheet 100.
[7] A.I. Tsvetayeva, «Saradzhev K. K., Master of Magic Ringing,” M., 1988, p. 63.
[8] V.F. Kozlovs, “First Assault of Moscow Old Times”, Architecture and Building of Moscow, 1990, No. 11.
[9] TsGAMO (Central State Archives of Moscow Region), holding 4341, inventory 1, file 255, sheets 108, 113, 137
[10] TsGAMO (Central State Archives of Moscow Region), holding 4341, inventory 1, file 537, sheet 23–24
[11] TsGAMO (Central State Archives of Moscow Region), holding 4341, inventory 1, file 261, sheet 26–31
[12] M. Prishvin Forests to Osudareva Road: from Diaries 1909–1930// Our Heritage, 1990, No. 1, pp. 82–85
[13] TsGAMO (Central State Archives of Moscow Region), holding 4570, file 25, sheet 13
[14] GARF (State Archives of Russian Federation), holding 5263, file 19, sheet 109–112.
[15] GARF (State Archives of Russian Federation), holding 5263, file 22, sheet 19
[16] TsGAMO (Central State Archives of Moscow Region), holding 4570, file 30, sheet 90–91
[17] GARF (State Archives of Russian Federation), holding 5263, file 48, sheet 22