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Minsk bell ringing: Soviet bans, 14,000-pound bell and meaning of ringing

From time immemorial, bells were believed to have great power. The sound, resembling the Annunciation, signaled a feast, a public meeting or a service.  On hearing rich mellow chime, people stopped, wherever they may have been (in the fields, on the road or on duty), looked in the sky and prayed.

For the sound to reach settlements miles away, belfries were built on hills or close to rivers, which are perfect acoustic systems.

Before the October revolution of 1917, all the Minsk churches had belfries in them. Since the 1920s, the Soviet authorities started closing houses of worship.

The Holy Spirit Cathedral, the Orthodox gem of the city, was closed in 1939.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Military Cemetery was the last church to shut down that year. During WWII, a bomb trapped inside the cathedral and nearly exploded.

Later, in 1941-1942, the German army removed bells from the shrines for metal supply. However, the invaders didn't ban divine services.  And as late as 1989, the Holy Spirit Cathedral broke the long silence of the capital with magnificent sounds.  

Elena Shatsko, Candidate of Arts, ethno music expert, campanologist:
With the blessing of the hegumen, the churchwarden collected bells of various houses of worship and repaired the ones at hand.  Several bells were remoulded at the Minsk Machine Tool Plant. They were erected covertly, as ringing was rather risky those days. But once the workers dared to ring. 

Today, the cathedral is famous for its unique collection of bells. Both the old (from the 19th century) and the new ones are here, with original friezes and images of saints. They were cast at various plants.

The biggest one was made in the German city of Bochum in 1821. It is a mystery how this treasure appeared in Minsk. The shape and the sound of the old bells from famous Olovyashnikov, Samgin and Ryzhov factories haven't changed up till now.

In 1850, two huge bells of 6 and 14 thousand pounds were moulded on the square near the Holy Spirit Cathedral.

The kiln was installed in the ground, a Moscow craftsman came, and the amazed Minsk citizens saw the consecration of the bells. Then they were set in the belfry.

Bellcasting wasn't taught before. Only certain families new this art, passing the secrets from one generation to another.

Elena Shatsko, Candidate of Arts, ethno music expert, campanologist:
In the end of the 19th century, there was a bell casting plant in Minsk, a family business. The craftsman Anton Bregosh lived next to the today's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Every bell is unique. The size, age and number of tools define their distinctive timbres.

Mellow chime is full of overtone and ultrasound. Its healing power was scientifically approved in the 1980s. The researchers studied the impact of the bell sound wave on living organisms.  Bacteria died within seconds.

Elena Shatsko, Candidate of Arts, ethno music expert, campanologist:
These bells are very fragile. Thus special ropes connect them to a desk. The bell clapper is pulled up to the strike place on the sound rim. We strike as softly as possible so as not to break the bell.

Each peal means something. One big bell chime is a signal for a meeting or a service. It could last for an hour and was heard at a distance of 15 villages. The peal of all bells symbolized the start of a liturgy.

By the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, all Minsk and Russian churches were closed. However, the villages of West Belarus kept the custom.

Researchers studied the traditions, old bell towers and bell-ringers dynasties in the ethnographic expeditions around the western regions of the country. From 2003 to 2010, they visited around 270 village churches.  As a result, a book was issued under the title "Bells and ringing bells of Orthodox churches of the western regions of Belarus."

Elena Shatsko, Candidate of Arts, ethno music expert, campanologist:
Currently, we are registering 24 churches in the western regions as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of traditional bell ringing. It is found only in West Belarus.

Most houses of worship with old bells and peal tradition are situated in the Brest region.

And a fragment of a XII century bell (among the oldest ones) is kept in the Grodno Museum of Archaeology.

The Holy Spirit Cathedral chime is an essential part of the city life.  By the way, every visitor can come in the belfry to hear the chimes at Easter time.

Minsk bells