06/21/2019, 11.47
RUSSIA
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The Russian Church reclaims Rublev

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Patriarchate demands the return of the Andronikov monastery from the state, where the Museum of Andrej Rublev, the most famous Russian and world iconographer, is based. The aim is to transform it into a cloistered monastery. But this would prevent the faithful from gaining access to some of the most beautiful works in the history of Russian Orthodoxy.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A controversy has been raging in Moscow for a few months now that sees the Orthodox Church pitted against public cultural institutions: the Patriarchate claims the return of the Andronikov monastery, where the Museum of Andrej Rublev, the most famous Russian iconographer, is located. 

The monastery was saved from Soviet destruction thanks to officials from the Ministry of Culture, and it preserves the oldest of the city's stone cathedrals. Along with the church, other buildings of the architectural complex were also saved, transforming them into a museum of ancient Russian art, with precious icons drawn from the basements where they had been deposited since the 1930s. Repeatedly threatened with closure and destruction, the Savior monastery of Andronikov was a symbol of faith's resistance to militant atheism. Today this popular heritage of Russian culture could again become inaccessible to the people, returning to being an enclosed monastery of the Orthodox Church.

After the end of the Soviet regime, the Museum had made an agreement with the Patriarchate for the shared use of the Cathedral of the Holy Savior, in which the parish was reopened, with the regular performance of liturgical celebrations. Since March of this year, the Church has requested the application of the "law on restitutions" of ecclesiastical buildings, to obtain ownership of the entire architectural complex.

The executives of the prestigious Museum have sought a compromise with the patriarchal leaders, proposing to return part of the buildings, where the administrative offices are now located, asking to be able to manage only those outside the actual monastery, where a lenthy and painstaking restoration project is being brough to an end.

The controversy arose above all from the Patriarchate's decision to request restitution only at the end of the restoration, exploiting the work of the museum administration, and then evicting it once the work is completed. The ecclesiastics have refused any compromise, and do not intend to leave the museum even a single room.

The icons and works exhibited, owned by the Museum, would end up again in storage, as there are no other spaces available to display them, and belonging to the monastery ownership; the operators of the Museum had collected them with great difficulty from all over Russia. Not to mention the fact that visits to the architectural structures, one of the best historical and cultural examples in the country, would be no longer possible.

The museum was designed around the figure of the holy monk Andrej Rublev, who spent his novitiate years under the guidance of the great Russian saint Sergy of Radonezh, re-founder of Russian spirituality at the end of the Tatar yoke in the 1300s. There are fragments of Rublev's frescoes, which were buried here, and several other works and testimonies from teh hand of the monk who is, without a doubt, the most famous icon painter in history.

The controversy is lending itslef to the general protest against the aggressive policy of the Patriarchate, with regard to restitution and construction of new ecclesiastical buildings, as in the case of the cathedral of Ekaterinburg, where the population is still up in arms against the claims of the Church to occupy public spaces citizens. Even at Spaso-Andronikov, despite the Church's historical right to regain its own building, there is a clear disproportion between the needs of the Patriarchate, which today includes churches and convents in Moscow and throughout the country, and the desire of the population of take direct advantage of cultural and religious structures, so many people had spent themselves in difficult years, putting their career and freedom at risk. The final result could see a Church rich in space and walls, but poor in people and faithful.

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