MOSCOW, March 29. /TASS/. The initiative to hold a referendum on preserving the museum status of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of St. Petersburg’s landmarks, is strange and counter-productive, Vladimir Legoida, the Moscow Patriarchate spokesman, said on Wednesday.
The St. Petersburg Election Commission earlier registered an initiative group to conduct a citywide referendum against the cathedral’s handover to the Russian Orthodox Church.
"The handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church is regulated by the federal laws on the handover of religious property to religious organizations," Legoida told TASS. "As a result, we are left with a strange situation when a referendum on the non-fulfilment of the law is being put forward."
He said that the Church is planning to cancel entrance fees and develop tourist programs after the Cathedral’s handover.
The St. Petersburg city government’s plans to transfer the St Isaac’s to the administrative realm of the Church for at least 49 years have stirred up a lot of public controversy.
The announcement was followed by public protests throughout the city. More than 215,000 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.
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.