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Experts concerned over church with unique frescos passed to ROC

August 02, 2012, 17:41 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Another scandal has sparked up in Russia over the protests of cultural personalities and experts against the handover of museum valuables to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). This time the Russian clerical authorities passed in possession to the Snetogorsky Convent the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin with unique frescos dated back to the beginning of the fourteenth century that had earlier belonged to the Pskov open air museum. The specialists are concerned over the conservation of precious frescos, citing similar regretful incidents related with the fresco conservation in the past.

The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin at the Snetogorsky Convent, which belonged to the Pskov open air museum, is handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church. Director of the open air museum Yuri Kiselev has signed recently an agreement with head of the territorial department of the Federal Agency of State Property Management in the Pskov Region Alexander Srebrolyubov to abrogate the state conservation agreement, under which the church was passed to the museum gratis for usage. Thus, the church has lost the museum status. The state conservation agreement was reported to be annulled a week later, when curator of the church for monumental painting Taisiya Kruglova was instructed to pass over to the nunnery the keys to the church.

Museum officials, art conservators, cultural personalities opposed strongly the handover of the cathedral to the monastery. They believe that the Russian Orthodox Church will not be able to provide proper conservation conditions for artistic valuables, as the previous cases of handing them over to the church showed. So, chairperson of the Pskov regional branch of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture Irina Golubeva noted that the documents lacked the detailed description of fresco paintings. Activists of the foresaid society launched a sign-up campaign for an appeal in protection of the frescos. Authors of the appeal are “strongly discontent” with the passing of the monument of history and culture with unique frescos into the use of the nuns’ community. They demand to bring the church back to the open air museum and “obtain the full funding of research and restoration works at this church and protect the unique monument of history and culture.”

Deputy of the Pskov regional Legislative Assembly from the Yabloko Party Lev Shlosberg objected to the transfer of the church. He sent three letters – to Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, head of the Federal Agency of State Property Management Olga Dergunova and Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky with the demand to suspend the process to hand over the monument of culture.

“The problem is how it is done: on the quiet, behind the back of the curator and our department,” Taisiya Kruglova said live on the Ekho Moskvy radio station. No one bears material responsibility for this unique ancient monument of culture, she claimed.

Kruglova recalled that the cathedral was transferred to the convent under the law on the handover of property for religious purposes to religious organizations that was enacted in 2010. But the expert contemplates whether the term “property for religious purposes” can be applied to the ensemble of fresco paintings. Since the frescos were not singled out as an object of protection and were not granted the legal status. Unique frescos are in an unsatisfactory condition now, she noted. The restoration works have just been launched. But the handover is underway just at a responsible stage in the very beginning of the restoration, when the work of restorers should be supervised closely.

A new crack in the restoration panel, which had been done in 2009, was found in July, Kruglova said. This fact shows that the church building is in a state of decay. It was decided to suspend the movement of heavy trucks around the church. However, a vigorous construction of the nunnery continues and heavy duty trucks are going around the church.

“It is very dangerous that the frescos are not a separate site of cultural heritage, are not put on a special state register, the passport is not issued for them, so, there is no site of cultural heritage from the formal point of view. The fresco paintings of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin are not protected in physical and legal ways,” Lev Shlosberg wrote in his Twitter blog.

Senior research fellow of the Tretyakov Art Gallery and specialist for ancient Russian art Levon Nersesyan recalled that this is already not the first problematic situation in this issue. “We have been following these situations for the last decade. The nuns from the St. Assumption Knyagininsky Convent received the Icon of the Mother of God of Bogolyubovo with all possible instructions from the curators: what should be done and what should not be done. They listened to all these instructions attentively; probably they have observed them for a while. But from some moment in the past they just stopped to do it, because they did not understand what the sense of their actions is. Now, speaking metaphorically, the icon is in a state of clinical death, in anabiosis on the restoration table. It cannot be even put in the vertical position,” he pointed out.

The expert believes that representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church are not actually interested in the frescos. “The statements of Metropolitan of Pskov and Velikiye Luki Evsevy is the talk of the town, what the latter said many years ago, when the handover of the church had been discussed, that all your ruins are interesting only for you, and when we receive all this, we will put them in order and will paint everything white,” Nersesyan remarked.

Restorer of the Pskov frescos Vladimir Sarabyanov believes that a church of the Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov sets an example, how such a tricky situation can be settled. The settlement of the problem is a great merit of Governor of the Pskov Region Andrei Turchak, who brought together all people concerned at the negotiating table, he said. The compromise was finally reached, and the church remained in conservation at the museum, but some religious services will be held at the church on the religious holidays. “The same should be done here, in Snetogory,” the expert believes.

The specialists refer to the worldwide practice, when the church authorities take particularly valuable sites in terms of the history of culture and particularly complicated sites to ensure their exemption from the liturgical services.

MOSCOW, August 2