Author: By Nadezhda YAKOVLEVA, Senior Researcher, Valdai Branch, Novgorod State Museum-Preserve
Bells... Big and small, light and heavy, sad and joyful... For ages their silvery voices have been, and remain, for the faithful as a message from Heaven-a gift which heals, elevates and protects you, your near and dear ones and your house and home. For centuries the sounds of bells measured the flow of time, calling people for prayer, work and rest, celebrations and laments, warning them of approaching calamities and ruthless foes, ushering in dear guests and national heroes and summoning us to unity and togetherness. But how and when did the miracle of bells come about? Who are the craftsmen that make them and what is their "span of life"?
According to the common tradition bells "originated" in the Italian Province of Campagna (for decades the Russian folk jargon for them was "kampany"). The very first bells were "dreamed up" by St. Paulinius (Bp. of Nola, 353 - 431) in the image and liking of flowers of the valley which appeared to him in a vision, like a message from heaven. They were swinging and ringing under the wind (perceived by the faithful as the Breath Divine) and the pealing of bells was for them the Music Divine.
With the appearance in Europe in the 4th century of swinging bells there also came into common use the particular manner of bell-ringing. Both found their way into Rus and were in common use until the 17th century when there appeared a special "Russian" peal- "into tongues". When Russia became Orthodox, Byzantine fathers advised the new converts not to ring bells, but use "bilos"- beaters, or gongs in the form of wooden or metal boards which the bell-ringer had to strike with a rattle.
In our own Museum of Bells were have a large arched "bilo" (which belonged to a monastery) symbolizing vault of heaven. Its thunder-like pealing sounds bring us back to the origins of the art.
In a set of "bilo" (clapper) tongues each board had its own tone and the general tone of the ringing depended on whether both ends of a tongue were struck at one time, or just one, or one after the other in turn. Until the end of the 19th century this instrument was in use in Novgorod the Great, marking momentous events in church life and attesting to the ancient traditions of Russian Orthodoxy and its Byzantine roots.
Today one can see side by side a Chinese handbell of the 16th century B.C., a Russian bell of the 16th century, and Italian 12th-century campagne, a 20th-century ship's bell, a Buddhist wind-bell of the 17th century and early 19th century Valdai ringers, hung on horse's harness. Looking at them one somehow gets the feeling that these musical devices have been for centuries the "connecting link" between different countries, faiths and cultural traditions. And, as many things of eternal and perfect value, they seem to have undergone no external changes. A shepherd's handbell from Ancient China of the 16th century B.C. bears no special distinctions from a shepherd's "botalo" produced in 1930 in a smithy of the village of Edrovo near Valdai in the Novgorod Region. Both are forged from iron, and not cast, and have a muffled low "voice". Their external "commonness" is made up for by the clearly defined exterior, or inner essence of this folk charm. In the Eastern tradition its main function was to ward off evil, in the West such amulets were supposed to attract all things good.
Russia's first center which specialized in the making of exclusively Russian bells of all shapes and sizes, using special technology, was the already mentioned Valdai.
VOICE OF RUSSIA
The Iversky Monastery, towering in the middle of Lake Valdai, was founded by Patriarch Nikon in 1653. Its object of note was its bell cast in 1656 by the court craftsmen Alexander Lykov (in some records-Lelekov) and decorated with a half-length image of the abbot holding two "models" in his hands: in the right one-of the Iveron Church and in the left one-of the master bell. Its weight and diameter were about 2.5 m, and as for its weight, the available sources differ on that point. Historical descriptions of the cloister often speak of 1,000 puds*. And the same weight is mentioned by the abbot himself in his essay "Paradise of the Mind" (Rai myslenny): "...and the bell of great size was cast of 1,000 puds in weight." But that was only in theory, and in practice the weight was much smaller. A marking on the bell itself is "800 puds" and the cloister register of 1656 mentions a different figure: according to the estimate and account of the craftsman Alexander Grigoryev that bell had a weight of 780 puds.
On August 30, 1724, during celebrations to mark the translation of the relics of Prince St. Alexander Nevsky-the winner over the Swedes (1240) and knights of the Teutonic Knights (1242)- to the St. Petersburg Monastery (Lavra) bearing his name, Peter the Great ordered the memorial bell to be moved to the new site as well. In the spring of 1725 it was taken off the Iveron belfry and transported to the Valdai river where it was loaded on a barge. But "because of the low spring water in the Valdaika the barge run aground 8 versts from the landing". And it remained there for almost a year, after which it was shipped to the Northern Capital where the relic arrived in August 1726. And the bell proved to be too large and too heavy for the Lavra belfry and a special new one had to be erected resting on four timber pillars. After some time it was moved to the Northern Tower of the Trinity Cathedral of the Lavra where it remained for years as the main and biggest bell of St. Petersburg-its voice.
A chime-a musically tuned set of bells placed on a belfry-was not produced at a stroke, so to say. Its "components" were cast at intervals, in different centers and by different craftsmen. But on the remote Island of Valaam (on
* Russian measure of weight, 1 pud = 16.38kg. - Ed .
Lake Ladoga), a major center of Orthodoxy, founded not later than the beginning of the 14th century, all of the bells were cast by the local craftsmen. Hanging in its original place to this day is the Voskresny (Resurrection) Bell of the Cathedral of the Savior and Transfiguration (Spaso- Preobrazhensky) cast in 1820 by the craftsman Alexei Shilov (weight of 550 puds). The same craftsman produced two more such bells (which have not been preserved): Polyeleos (150 puds) and Vsednevny (daily, of 82 puds).
In August 1819 the cloister was visited by Emperor Alexander I who inspected the furnace and the mould. Craftsman Shilov produced a special dedication inscription on the bell, in honor of the occasion, which was richly decorated and had a beautiful "voice". In 1826 the craftsman cast one more bell in honor of the sovereign. The metal contained a mixture of bits and pieces of metal decor from different churches located along the path of a funeral procession taking the mortal remains of Alexander I from Taganrog to St. Petersburg.
The bell cast in 1850 by the Valdai craftsmen M. Stukolkin (at his own factory on Malaya Okhta in St. Petersburg) has been preserved to this day and is still singing over Valaam. In 1873 members of the Stukolkin's family cast the biggest and most famous bell for the Valaam cloister- the bell of St. Andrew of 1,000 puds. It was noted for its exquisite decor and the "voice" of remarkable beauty and power-a reminder of the great Christian mission of St. Andrew the First- Called, who is believed to have marked the hills of Valaam with a stone cross. The images of the cross and the Apostle are depicted on the cross. Its powerful toll could be heard some 40 versts away, as far as Finland and Karelia.
From 1918 to 1947 Valaam was Finnish territory and the St. Andrew Bell was the biggest in that country. It
was smashed in a Soviet air-raid in 1940 but remained on the belfry. In 1947 the island became Soviet territory and the cloister was shut down. Father Isaakiy, who rung the bells of Valaam for the previous 40 years, tolled the bell for the last 12 times-a token of the end of the monastery. The historic bell was thrown down to the ground to the wailing of the assembled faithful. Its fragments were collected and sent for remelting.
Since then only two of the original bells remained on Valaam-of the Resurrection by A. Shilov and a small bell (of about 5 puds) by the craftsman V. Usachyov-the founder of the Usachyovs' plant on Valdai. In 1990 seamen brought to Valaam the final product of the famous local smelters-the Usachyovsky Bell, cast in 1928.
THE GIFT OF VALDAI...
One can only guess as to the origin of the famous "Valdai kolokolchiks"- small jingle bells. Legend dates them by the 15th century, but the very first ones, with dates and bearing the marks of their makers, appeared only at the start of the 19th century, in 1802. They were produced by several craftsmen right from the start, including Philip Terskoy, Alexei, Nikita and Ivan Smirnovs and Egor Lebedev. All worked in keeping with a common tradition which was the basic hallmark of the Valdai casting and which remained unchanged for a long time to come. The famous Valdai jingle bells were cast from exceptionally high grades of copper; they had thick walls with their height being equal to their width; the forged drop-shaped tongue, or clapper was made of iron and the sound bow, or skirt, was broad and separated from the waist* by a belt. One of their distinctions was the absence of ornament, the only decor consisting of calligraphic inscriptions located on the skirt.
* Waist-the body of a bell, from head to skirt. - Ed.
Our own collection of 1802 bells is rather rich. Apart from the aforesaid items, it features bells cast by the local craftsmen (including Makar, Trofim and Vasiliy of the Stukolkins family, Ivan Mitrofanov, Alexei Chistyunin, Alexei, Andrei and Vasiliy of the Nefedovs' family, Pelageya Usachyova and her sons-Nikolai and Yakov who mainly specialized in church bells. The plant of the Usachyov brothers on Valdai was the last domestic producer of such bells which went out of business in January 1930.
Tradition links the popularity of the Valdai small bells with the following historical events: in 1478 the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III put an end to the independent status of Novgorod and on January 15 the ancient Novgorodian veche (elected town assembly) was disbanded once and for all. The usurper ordered the veche bell-the symbol of the staunch independence of the Novgorodians-to be taken down and brought to Moscow. In a road accident on Valdai the bell was broken up into fragments and it is from these fragments that the Valdai "bubentsy" small bells originated.
Their variety is really surprising: table and room bells, doorbells, fishermen's bells, station bells, bells of shepherds and those for horse carriages. For a non-specialist most of these look the same, especially the Valdai ones which are not distinguished by a variety of shapes, ornaments and inscriptions. And that is exactly what makes them so valuable: their classically austere proportions and inscriptions, their harmony of proportions and expediency, the absence of everything redundant and false. The Valdai small bell remained unrivalled by those produced by even the best craftsmen from the towns like Tyumen, Kasimov (Ryazan Region), Tula and Purekha (Nizhni Novgorod Region).
Apart for all that the "bubentsy" suddenly found a new and very popular application-they were hung from the shaft-bow of mail vans, drawn, in the Russian tradition, by a "troika" team of three horses. In the late 18th and early
19th centuries Valdai "kolokolchiks" became a national symbol of Russia and its roads. Since then any small bell attached to a harness is usually called a Valdai "kolokolchik" no matter where it was really produced.
For some time there were even official restrictions on such "jingle harnesses" which could be used only by mail and police vans, entitled to "the right of way" like the police and VIP cars of today. They are mentioned all the time in the Russian folklore of the time.
And the "jingling harnesses" helped prevent road accidents, warning station masters of an approaching van or carriage and keeping the "yamshchik" (coachman) from falling asleep in his seat. And the "kolokolchiks" also helped keep away the beasts of pray
which were many in woods along the roads. And, last but not least, the melodious jingling helped generate a special emotional climate for the passengers and the coachman on their long and hazardous journeys across desolate woods and fields ("Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...").
One of the most common and the earliest inscriptions on "kolokolchiks" said: "My gift to him whom I fancy." An inscription on a Finnish "kolokolchik" said literally: "He who steals me is devil's friend." But the Russian "kolokolchiks" always carried a message of love and good will with many generations of our countrymen finding comfort in the "My gift to him whom I fancy" motto.
Suffice it to say that the famous Russian poet of the period-Fyodor Glinka wrote a song "Galloping Troika" (1824) which became so popular that quotations from it were engraved upon harness "kolokolchiks". The most common inscription was "Kolokolchik-Gift of Valdai"-a popular poetic refrain for whole generations of our countrymen.
For a specialists there can be no two absolutely identical "kolokolchiks". Even when they happen to be of the same shape and size, one can always trace some distinctions, like a different joint of the clapper-tongue, metal finish and, naturally enough, the sound.
The early Valdai "kolokolchiks" were in such demand that years later their makers kept using old casting molds without bothering to change the old dates and inscriptions (bells made in 1804, 1807 or 1810 bore the old markings of 1802). Some such craftsmen "touched up" the inscriptions but did so in a clearly visible ways.
As for the Valdai craftsmen, they produced mainly church and alarm bells in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For the 200th anniversary of the Valdai "kolokolchik" our museum stages an exhibition of some of the earliest "artifacts", and we are planning now putting on sale our jingling jubilee souvenirs.
A visitor to our Museum will find out why European bells sing, and Russian ones talk, what kind of "music" could a common traveller hear on the Russian roads one and a half centuries ago and whether or not the historic Veche Bell of "the Lord Novgorod the Great" is still around. Our experts will tell you about the remarkable city of Mechelen (Fr. Malines, Belgian city) and the Malines peal and about its virtuoso player by the name of Yo Haasen. In fact he is the Director of the Belgian Royal International School of the carillon which accepts students with brilliant musical education. On funds raised from all over the world Prof. Haasen made a gift to St. Petersburg on its 300th anniversary. He installed a carillon on the wall of the Petropavlovskaya Fortress for the use of himself and his Russian pupils.
Our museum display, opened to the public in June 1995, features a fascinating collection of documents on the history of bells, present-day casting technologies, factories which produce bells and the art of bell-ringing. Our own collection boasts several legendary items. One of them is the aforesaid Veche Bell of Nizhni Novgorod depicted on a miniature from the "Litsevoi Svod" Chronicle (16th century). Another pride of our collection is one of the first Russian church bells cast by the Pskov craftsmen Timofei Andreyev and Prokofiy Grigoryev in 1536. We also have bells of German, Swedish, Finnish, Italian and British manufacture. Among them are bells which were ordered in the 17th century by the Novgorodian "streltsy" (musketeers) at the workshop of the local craftsman K. Kleiman, bells cast in the 17th century in Novgorod itself and also brought there as trophies during the Northern War (1700 - 1721) with Sweden. One of these bells was cast in 1680 for a wedding, another-autographed, was cast in 1692 by the craftsman M. Bader on an order of King Carl XI. It was "beheaded" on an order of Peter the Great.
The collection also contains a bell from the village of Yazvishchi (Valdai Region) and the interesting thing about it is that it was "sentenced to be shot" by Nazi soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. Most of the bells were "shaped" in the manner of a young girl's outline. They have the "head", "shoulders", "bust" and the lowest (and broadest) section is commonly known as "skirt". The Nazi soldiers started shooting at the bell from top to bottom, but it kept ringing nevertheless. The bell lost its peal only when the bullets damaged its sound bow-its "skirt".
Our latest entries include some very rare Valdai "jingles" produced by craftsmen like F. Chizhov (1861), P. Usachyova (1884) and I. Mitrofanov (mid-19th century).
Visitors to our museum cannot only inspect our collection, but hear whole bell concerts played by our musicians on three belfries. And our guests are also invited to try their skill on our instruments.
At the start of the 20th century a leading authority on the history of bell-making who worked at a well-known bell foundry in Yaroslavl-N. Olovyanishnikov, wrote: "The pealing of bells takes all your thoughts and cares away from the Earth and up into Heaven. It fills your heart with radiant joy and harmony divine, with the echoes of distant Paradise filling your soul with joy and hope..."