2017-05-24 / Front Page

Off The Beaten Track: Russian Bells Of Moscow Kremlin & Novgorod

By Catherine Tsounis

Tsar’s Bell in Kremlin
Tsar’s Bell in Kremlin Only in Russia did I see an intense love for Bells. They are special to Russians. Bells play an important part in their Orthodox service. They invite people to church, for birth and funerals. They are an important part of the Russians’ daily life. They ring for sorrow, joy and major events.1

The Tsar's Bell in the Kremlin is imposing to the tourist. The bell is decorated with relief images of baroque angels, plants, oval medallions with saints, and nearly life-size images of Empress Anna and Tsar Alexey, who was reigning at the time the previous Tsar Bell was cast. The bell was broken during metal casting. The broken piece is on display. It has never been rung. It is the largest bell in the world. The Czar’s Bell was restored in 1979-1980.2

While visiting Novgorod, the birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia, we saw the bells of St. Sofia Cathedral and other Novgorod religious sanctuaries. They are on display at the St. Sophia Cathedral Bell tower in the Novgorod Kremlin. The bells shaped Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff’s music. The bells are on the ground now and do not play. During WWII, the Nazis removed and tried to steal them. They were saved and placed on the ground in the Kremlin. We all wanted photos of these beautiful creations.3

At the foot of the tower there are five ancient monumental bells and the belfry itself houses bells of modern casting. It is the chimes of the bells of this belfry that appeared to be one of the brightest childhood memories for Sergei Rachmaninov, a great Russian composer born in the Novgorod region. Now the belfry houses the exhibition "Ancient Bells of Veliky Novgorod". The largest bell exhibited weighs over about 705 pounds, or 320 kg, and the smallest one is over 1.5 about 53 pounds, or 24 kg. The viewing point provides a picturesque panorama of Veliky Novgorod. In summer time it is open daily, except Tuesday.

This grandiose construction stands over the Kremlin in the wall with five spans form in the Details of the Tsar’s Bell.

Details of the Tsar’s Bell. upper part. This type of construction was invented during the reign of Novgorod Archbishop Euphemius II and then was duplicated only twice in Russia. There are five ancient monumental bells at the foot of the bell tower; the bells of modern casting hang above. Every day the sound of the bells is spread far away above the city.

The first mention of the preserved building of the bell tower refers to 1437, when the spring flood of the river Volkhov brought down this construction. Two years later Archbishop Euphemius II built a new bell tower on the old place. It was rebuilt many times, and only the architectural and archeological research and the images on the ancient icons give the opportunity to picture its original shape. But such reconstructions didn’t change the essence of this construction as the "main bells" of Novgorod.”4

Bells at the St. Sophia Cathedral Bell tower in the Novgorod Kremlin.Bells at the St. Sophia Cathedral Bell tower in the Novgorod Kremlin.The Millennium of Russia bronze bell monument in the Novgorod Kremlin, that celebrated the beginning of the Russian nation, is in the shape of a bell crowned by a cross symbolizing the Tsar’s power unifying church and state. We viewed The Monument to the Millennium of Russia, built in 1862 to commemorate 1,000 years of Russian history with astonishment. I was impressed with the large Byzantine crosses and the adoption of Christianity by Prince/Saint Vladimir 988 A.D. on top of the monument. The base of the monument has a frieze with the apostles to the Slavs, SS. Cyril and Methodius, the Russian history chronicler Nestor, an 11th century Greek monk, Russian translator Maksim the Greek, a 16th century monk.

Ironically, now that Russia is no longer an atheistic, communist state, but a nation embracing capitalism and its Eastern Orthodox past, the U.S.- Russian relations portrayed by the Media is poor. Greece, a poor country, never had the funds to embark on a grand bell building project. She was and is still fighting for its freedom.

The Millennium of Russia bronze bell monument in the Novgorod Kremlin,

The Millennium of Russia bronze bell monument in the Novgorod Kremlin, I conclude this article with a quote from the Novgorod writer Piotr Zolin. “Behold Theophane’s God whose eyes make clear that beauty, modest and austere, defines this city’s heart and soul. Then hear the choir in Novgorod: dome and tower resound with St. Sophia’s power to keep old Russia young and whole. Novgorod is justifiably famous for its remarkable historical interest. People quite rightly refer to it as a museum town. No other Old Russian town has managed to hold on to such a wealth of architecture and so many works of both fine and applied art. Its incomparable past has secured a special place for Novgorod in the history of the country. Long may they endure, the resolute images of Novgorod’s icons and the austere dignity of its churches: they are potent emblems of the distinctive beauty that has been and always can be, created on our land by our people.”5


  1. Olga Dmitriyeva, “The Moscow Kremlin: Inside the Kremlin’s Treasures” (ART-Courier: Moscow, 2012). p. 67.
  2. Dmitriyeva, p. 69.
  3. http://visitnovgorod.com/sights/bell_tower_sophia_cathedrale.html
  4. http://visitnovgorod.com/sights/bell_tower_sophia_cathedrale.html
  5. http://www.qgazette.com/news/2016-02-10/Front_Page/Off_The_Beaten_Trail_Byzantine_Civilization_Of_Vel.html

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