San Francisco Chronicle

Historic Bells Stolen From Church Tower

Chimes were gift from Russian czar in 1888

Mekeisha Madden, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 1999

Thieves made off with three of seven historic bells at Holy Trinity Cathedral this weekend, stunning parishioners and officials at the nation's oldest Eastern Orthodox cathedral.

The bells, which survived the 1906 earthquake and other disasters, were discovered missing from the bell tower of the cathedral at 1520 Green St. on Saturday night. The church has been undergoing renovation since a fire last April. Church officials said the thieves probably climbed to the tower with the help of painter's scaffolds.

The three stolen bells were donated by Russian Czar Alexander III in 1888 and served as a reminder of the close ties between Russia and the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and are a key landmark in the Marina and Russian Hill districts.

The bells were cast in Moscow by N.D. Findlandsky's Bell Foundry and are adorned with decorative scrollwork. They carry the name of bell maker N.D. Findlandsky in Cyrillic (Russian) characters.

``They belong to the church and the whole community,'' said the Rev. Victor Sokolov. ``We want every antique dealer and shop owner to report the thief who tries to sell the bells to them.''

Sokolov was supposed to celebrate his eight-year anniversary at Holy Trinity yesterday but was too upset by the theft.

The bells, donated by the czar to commemorate his narrow escape from an assassin who blew up a train carrying the czar and his family, have a history of close calls.

In 1906, the bells were moved after being spared by the great earthquake and fire. The cathedral, then on Powell Street near Columbus, burned down. But the bells came through unharmed and were installed in the tower of the current cathedral, which was built in 1909 and rebuilt 70 years later.

Police are investigating how the heavy bells, which are 12 to 15 inches in diameter and 15 to 18 inches tall, were taken.

The bells are rung manually before each service and were gone when the choir director went to ring the bells before 6 p.m. service Saturday. Each bell makes a different sound based on the amount of bronze, pewter and silver in it, the way the bell hangs and the size. The smaller the bell, the higher the note.

Holy Trinity is a small church with about 70 active members.

Anyone with information is asked to call the San Francisco Police or Holy Trinity Cathedral at (415) 673-8565. For more information go to the church's Web site at

1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A17