Stolen Bells Returned to San Francisco Cathedral

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Three priceless bells stolen from San Francisco's Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral were mysteriously returned Wednesday, and appeared to be in good working order, officials said.

The three bells, part of a set of seven donated by Russian Czar Alexander III to the cathedral in 1888, appeared on the church's doorstep four days after they were reported missing.

"There they were, two boxes with the bells intact, everything neatly packed," said the Rev. Victor Sokolov, the rector of the Cathedral.

"We have had a thanksgiving service, reconsecrated them and blessed them with holy water," he said. "It is wonderful to see."

Sokolov said a man came to the rectory Tuesday and, in a brief conversation with his daughter, said he had purchased the bells for $250 on the street and wanted to give them back "no questions asked."

The bells, cast to mark Alexander III's escape from an assassination attempt, are adorned with decorative scrollwork. They are believed to be unique in the United States, and rare even in Russia, where many church bells were destroyed during World War II.

Police said they were still looking for information about the theft, which occurred as the cathedral underwent major renovation following a fire in 1998.

Holy Trinity, the oldest Orthodox Cathedral in the contiguous United States, is the seat of Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West Orthodox Church in America.

"This is the birthplace of Russian America," Sokolov said, adding that the cathedral's chimes added to the multicultural fabric of the city of San Francisco. "These bells add to this happy noise," he said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters