Russian Orthodox Bell Ringing

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Orchestra of the Russian Orthodox Church Bells will blow your mind away

Little did I know, when I went to the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius, the largest monastery in Suzdal, that I would be treated to a mind blowing performance of orthodox church bell orchestra.


↑ Sky filled with splendid colours.

Lets play some music!

Russian Orthodox bell ringing has a history starting from the baptism of Rus in 988 CE and plays an important role in the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Technically, bells in Russian tradition are rung exclusively by tolling (i.e, moving only the clapper so that it strikes the side of the bell) and never by pealing (swinging the entire bell until it sounds). For tolling bells a special complex system of ropes is developed and used individually for every belltower. All the ropes are gathered at approximately one point, where the bell-ringer (zvonar) stands. Some ropes (the smaller ones) are played by hand, the bigger ropes are played by foot. The major part of the ropes (usually – all ropes) are not actually pulled, but rather pressed. Since one end of every rope is fixed, and the ropes are kept in tension, a press or even a punch on a rope makes a clapper stike the side of its bell.


↑ Set of bells in the orchestra. (picture from Novgodod’s monastery. It was too dark here in Suzdal.)

No melody is employed, as in the Western carillon, but rather a complicated polyrhythmical sequence of sounds is produced. The foundation of Orthodox bell ringing lies not in melody but in rhythm, with its intrinsic dynamic, and in the interaction of the timbres of various bells. These sequences have a very special harmony, since Russian bells (unlike Western European ones) are not tuned to a single note. Western bells usually have an octave between the loudest upper tone (“ring”) and the loudest lower tone (“hum”). Russian bells have a seventh between these sounds. Generally, a good Russian bell is tuned to produce a whole scale of sounds (up to several tens of them). This effect is accomplished both by the composition of the alloy from which the bell is cast and the sculpting of the sides of the bell in the mold.

Constructed based on information from Wikipedia


↑ Birds fly back to their nests, in orchestrated loops, as if applauding the performance.

The bell ceremony started precisely at 17:30 and I was caught unaware. I swear I stood under the bell tower looking up gawking at the spectacular show. When the music ended, maybe after 5 minutes, I released my breath (didn’t realize I was sortof holding it) and proceeded towards the exit, trembled on my path, still mesmerized by the music.


↑ The main cathedral.

Finally, I leave you with an OK presentation of bell ringing from the monastery of Rostov (source)

If you are unable to see the player above, here is the mp3 file: 2009-10-09_rostov-bells.mp3 (594 KB)
I will, soon, play and record some orthodox bell music on my Sitar. ^_^

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery