Cumberland church bells recovered from scrap yards

| April 23, 2010

CUMBERLAND — All six bells — Stephan, Sophia, Vera, Nadezhda, Lubov and Gabriel — that were stolen from the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church last week have been recovered. But only four of them could ring again in the small bell house in front of the church.

“Well, we miss the bells,” the Rev. Vasily Lickwar, pastor of the Orthodox parish on Manville Hill Road, said at a police news conference Thursday. “They are an integral part of our worship.”

The bell Stephan, named for Saint Stephan the first martyr, the largest at hundreds of pounds, is now in three pieces, and Father Lickwar said that bell and the second-smallest of the bells, Lubov, named for a second-century martyr, now shorn of its top, won’t join the others.

The police say James M. Haselton, 32, of Lincoln, was attempting to sell the bells at scrap yards in Woonsocket and Lincoln. The police said another arrest is possible.

Police Chief John Desmarais said Haselton, who is charged with two felony counts of receiving stolen goods, lives near the church.

The bells are made of bronze and brass. “Bronze scrap can sometimes fetch $1.75 per pound,” Desmarais said.

The police got a call Friday night, after media reports about the bells, which eventually led to a person of interest and the recovery of the bells from the scrap yards.

The police say they believe the theft was motivated by money and are looking into whether it involved a drug habit, Desmarais said.

Haselton, who is unemployed, is not connected to the church, the police said.

According to records in District Court, Providence, Haselton pleaded no contest in January to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge brought by North Smithfield police and, on April 9, he pleaded no contest to a Lincoln police complaint of firing in a compact area. He received one-year suspended sentence for the first, and one year suspended/one year probation for the second. The Lincoln complaint meant he violated probation, according to the records.

Father Lickwar has said the combined value of the bells is at least $100,000. The bell Vera, Father Lickwar said, bears the markings “Queen Mary England.”

In Orthodox tradition, the bells are baptized and chrismated, in which a consecrated oil filled with spices and minerals from every country in the world is applied. The church acquired the bells at various times since its 1907 founding. They ring Sunday mornings, and on Easter from 11:30 p.m. until 4 a.m., Father Lickwar said.

Father Lickwar said young people sometimes rang the bells.

As word of the thefts spread, he said, “We received word from all over expressing sympathy.”

The bell Stephan, so heavy it was not brought upstairs to the news conference, is about 7 feet in circumference at its base and 1 foot, 9 inches tall.

The other bells were arrayed on a table before the media. The second-largest is Sophia, named for the saint. In descending order of size are Vera, Nadezhda, and Lubov –– named in honor of 2nd-century martyrs who were Sophia’s daughters, ages 12, 9 and 6.

Father Lickwar discovered five of the bells missing Friday morning. He called the police and said that he saw a man getting into a van in the church driveway and, when asked what he was doing, the man said he loved to come to the church with his girlfriend to pray. Returning to the church about an hour after seeing the police, Father Lickwar said the sixth bell — the smallest, named after Gabriel the archangel — was gone.

It’s unclear was how the bells were removed and taken. Along with Stephan, which police estimated at 600 pounds, the mother bell and the three martyred-daughter bells weigh 165 pounds, the police said.

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Category: Church Security

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