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Historical Museum’s director blasts handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to church

February 07, 2017, 12:12 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The church and the museum community have joint tasks of "preserving spirituality, morality, high moral and cultural values"

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© Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

MOSCOW, February 7. /TASS/. Director of Russia’s State Historical Museum Alexei Levykin has told TASS he opposes the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of St. Petersburg's prominent landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Currently, there are many opportunities for successful cooperation of museums and the church, he stressed.

"Still, I’m a representative of the museum community and a member of the Russian presidium of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and a member of the presidium of the Union of Museums of Russia, and my stance here is that I do not welcome the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. I believe that there are much more opportunities for joint successful cooperation of museums and the church that complement each other," he said in an interview with TASS.

The church and the museum community have joint tasks of "preserving spirituality, morality, high moral and cultural values," Levykin said. "We should not forget that the museum personnel preserved the church values in the extreme conditions during the post-revolutionary and the war time, sometimes at the expense of their own life," he said.

During the Soviet time, the State Historical Museum in Moscow incorporated the Krutitsy Metochion, containing historic buildings erected in the late 17th century, and the Novodevichy Convent, a UNESCO world heritage site and burial place of many famous figures. These two sites were handed over to the Orthodox Church some 20 years ago and in 2010, respectively.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, one of symbols of Russia and a major tourist attraction, which became part of the Historical Museum in 1928, has been jointly managed by the museum and the Orthodox Church for a quarter of a century already. Every Sunday and twice a year worship service is held in the cathedral. During this time, the access of tourists is limited to create convenient conditions for the believers.

The plans by the St. Petersburg government to hand over St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church have stirred up a lot of public controversy. The announcement was followed by protests throughout the city. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition against the handover of the cathedral, one of Russia’s most popular museums visited by some 3.5 mln tourists annually.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum, has asked Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill to revoke the handover request to stop public protests.

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.

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