ST. PETERSBURG, January 11. /TASS/. More than 100,000 people have already signed an online petition against the planned handover of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral museum, one of St. Petersburg's landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the Russian Orthodox Church.
"We demand the handover of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church be stopped," says the petition published at change.org. and addressed to St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The petition was first published after the Orthodox Church’s first attempt to gain control of the cathedral, one of Russia’s most popular museums visited by some 3.5 mln tourists annually.
The petition’s authors are concerned that the Orthodox Church will be unable to carry out St. Isaac’s renovation and that one of Europe’s largest museums will lose its educational role.
St. Petersburg Governor Poltavchenko told TASS earlier that St. Isaac’s would retain its museum functions after becoming property of the Russian Orthodox Church and would be open to people of all religions.
Meanwhile, museum director Nikolay Burov said that the museum would cease to exist after the handover.
The St. Petersburg diocese asked the city government to hand the cathedral back to the Church in 2015 but the request was rejected. A year later new requests were sent to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Governor Poltavchenko.
The cathedral was built in 1818-1858 and transformed into a museum after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Church services were resumed at St. Isaac’s in 1990.
However, St. Isaac’s was not property of the Orthodox Church even prior to the revolution since its maintenance was very expensive. The cathedral was managed by the Imperial Ministry of Communication Routes and Public Buildings until 1871 and was then turned over to the Interior Ministry of the Russian Empire.