Russian Bell Chiming

Semantron, holy wooden boards, have long been used by Eastern Christian churches to signal to their faithful, a tradition that grew out of the early Christian practice of knocking on monks’ doors to call them to worship.* Like bells for Western Christians, the beating of the semantron then and now calls its members to the church.

The signalers take advantage of the percussive possibilities. What stands out when you hear this ringing is the fast rhythm produced with two mallets.

Now imagine that it’s fourteenth-century Russia, and the Russian church has taken a renewed interest in bells. The clergy and laity alike are accustomed to fast percussive rhythms, so those same patterns are then transferred to the bells, large and small. Russian ringers use the oldest method of ringing large bells by pulling ropes to strike clappers against stationary bells, rather than adopting the more recent western European tradition of swinging bells in a peal. Through this way, the ringers can achieve similar rhythms with their new signalers. This method of chiming on zvons, sets of bells, endures today, despite its near extinction during Communist Russia.

Hear more Russian chiming with a visual background of beautiful Russian churches.


*Information for this post taken from Edward V. Williams, The Bells of Russia: History and Technology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985) and Percival Price, Bells and Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

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