A Moscow monastery has the first massive Russian church bell that hung for decades at Harvard University. This one and 17 others were rescued from Stalin's religious purges by an American industrialist.
Hundreds of believers flocked to the Danilovsky Monastery, home to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, for the ceremony to bless the massive bronze bell, officially known as the Everyday Bell. The remaining 17 bells will be shipped to Russia next year.
"The tolling of the Danilovsky bells, which has been stored up for more than two centuries, is again at home at the Danilovsky Monastery and it will call us to prayer from now on," Patriarch Alexey II said in televised comments.
American industrialist Charles R. Crane bought the 18 brass bells from the Soviet government in 1930, saving them from being melted down in purges that saw thousands of monks executed and churches and monasteries destroyed or turned into prisons, orphanages or animal barns.
The original bells were cast in the 18th and 19th centuries and are decorated with etchings of Jesus Christ and Mary, as well as saints and angels. The largest, the Mother Earth Bell, weighs 13 tons and has a 700-pound (315-kilogram) clapper. The smallest weighs 22 pounds (10 kilograms).
They hung for decades in the towers at Lowell House and Harvard Business School's Baker Library.
In exchange for returning the bells, Harvard will receive a set of replica bells cast in Russia and blessed by the Russian patriarch.
Russian oil and metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, who has waged a campaign to return cultural treasures such as the Faberge egg collection back to Russia, paid several million dollars (euros) to organize the exchange.