Heartfelt chimes

[b]The sound of bells awakes many Grodno residents, as the chimes ring out over the city, sounding lower or louder in different locations. The Nativity of the Virgin Church, built almost 300 years ago on the site of the Basilian Monastery, is situated in the historical centre of the city, where it is quieter. The chimes are heard perfectly here. Moreover, the black-golden domes housing the bells can be clearly seen[/b]If you walk two hundred metres along Zamkovaya Street and turn into Sovetskaya Square, you reach the stone walls of famous Farny Roman Catholic Church — once the richest in the Rzech Pospolita and Eastern Europe. In 1705, Russian Tsar Piotr I and Polish King August II attended its consecration. The church has many treasures — the most famous its old pendulum clock, which still works. A similar mechanism is found at the Tower of London — no longer working but on show as a rare museum exhibit.
The sound of bells awakes many Grodno residents, as the chimes ring out over the city, sounding lower or louder in different locations. The Nativity of the Virgin Church, built almost 300 years ago on the site of the Basilian Monastery, is situated in the historical centre of the city, where it is quieter. The chimes are heard perfectly here. Moreover, the black-golden domes housing the bells can be clearly seen

If you walk two hundred metres along Zamkovaya Street and turn into Sovetskaya Square, you reach the stone walls of famous Farny Roman Catholic Church — once the richest in the Rzech Pospolita and Eastern Europe. In 1705, Russian Tsar Piotr I and Polish King August II attended its consecration. The church has many treasures — the most famous its old pendulum clock, which still works. A similar mechanism is found at the Tower of London — no longer working but on show as a rare museum exhibit.
In Grodno, you climb 132 steep steps to reach the clock. Guide Iosif Yasyukevich — the only Belarusian tower clock engineer — tells us about the unusual history of Farny Roman Catholic Church’s chiming timepiece.
The clock and bells were made in Germany long before the Grodno church was built — in 1665. Sixty years later, they were moved from a wooden town hall to their new home in the left tower of the Roman Catholic church. The clock functioned well for many years but then broke. In 1874, French master Pierre Koseu repaired its anchor mechanism. It stopped again during WWI, when Kaiser troops took three (out of its four) bells to Germany, including the large watch bell. A new 300kg bell was cast in 1938 in Poland but WWII hampered its installation. After the war, the clock was kept in working order until the period of atheism came. Only in the 1990s did the old chiming clock with three faces and bells again resume its counting of time. The master proudly says that it now functions properly
and ‘has as long a life ahead of it as
it has seen so far’.
On passing another stairwell, we see three majestic bells — one large and two smaller. The smaller bells beat the quarter hour while the large bell rings every hour. At quarter past the hour, one chime is heard, two at the half hour and three at quarter to the hour. Iosif is convinced that the secret of the Grodno clock’s long life is that its caretakers understood its character and gave it loving care.
Another distinctive feature of Farny Roman Catholic Church is its wooden altar, which is artistically unique. On the fateful night of July 13th, 2006, three altar figures caught fire because of a short circuit and the bells began ringing. They were switched on automatically by the computer, which buzzed as a result of the electric failure. During those uneasy hours, the ancient clock continued beating time.
Much can be said about the clocks, bells and churches of Grodno. If you take a small journey through the Nieman River region you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its sights. The village of Ishchelno, several kilometres from Grodno-Minsk motorway, is home to Troitsky Roman Catholic Church — a pearl of Belarusian architecture. It was built 250 years ago, replacing the wooden church set up in 1514. The new building is made of stone and brick while the faзade — with two towers above — is its major feature. The interior is also very rich. Three Rococo-style altars are decorated with paintings while the church’s sculptural Bible-themed compositions and frescos on the dome are true masterpieces. It’s impossible to ignore the organ — a rare instrument in our modern times — which is blown manually. The name of its designer, Vatslav Bernandsky, (from Vilno) is inscribed on the instrument. The church also has a sun-dial with a 1m diameter copper face fixed on a round stone pedestal. It once had a triangular hand to cast a shadow but a wooden stick currently substitutes the broken piece.
The 19th century Troitskaya Bell Tower is impressive, with three huge bells. Each has a human name. The oldest and largest is Dominic, which weighs 660kg. It was cast in 1737. 360kg Kazimir is almost 200 years younger while 200kg Piotr was made in the early 20th century. The bells often ring in Ishchelno; if the same melody is heard three times, it’s said to be good luck…
Meanwhile, the bells of St. Nicholas Church have not rung in the village of Dubno (in the Mosty district) for several decades. Five large, sonorous bells were cast in Moscow 250 years ago but, after the church was closed in Soviet times, they disappeared. Local villager Vasily Koren has set about restoring them. Born in Dubno in 1915, where he was baptised and grew up, he later went to Poland to earn money. Afterwards, he lived for some time in Germany and America but, in 1992, returned to his homeland with his wife. On coming to the village, the old man saw that the local church, built in 1844 by famous Italian architects, was in neglect. Koren vowed to spend his savings on repairing the church, replacing the domes and buying icons, candlesticks and other church items.
Being a true Orthodox believer, Vasily wanted to hear his bells ringing. At that time, he was already seriously ill and could not register the order. His request was fulfilled by the church’s priest, Father Nikolay, in the spring of 2007. A 500kg bell worth $10,000 (paid for by Vasily) was cast in late autumn for instalment by Christmas. It rang on January 23rd, 2008; Sadly, Vasily died just four days beforehand…

By Iosif Popko
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