Vladimir Putin has given one of Russia’s most famous religious icons to the Russian Orthodox Church, seemingly as a thank-you for its support for his invasion of Ukraine.
The decision to move the 600-year-old painting from a museum has been criticised as reckless due its fragile condition.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, presided over a Sunday service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow next to the 15th century “Trinity”, by the medieval painter Andrei Rublev.
“President Putin has made a historic decision to return this miraculous icon,” he said. “The icon will be in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour for a year so that both Muscovites and guests of the capital can bow to this great shrine.”
Art experts describe the “Trinity” as a masterpiece by “Russia’s most important medieval artist”. It shows three angels considered to be the Holy Trinity and the embodiment of unity, peace, harmony, love and humility.
Video footage showed thousands of Russians queuing up to see the work, held in a glass cabinet and guarded by two policemen.
But art experts have said that it is deeply irresponsible of the Kremlin to move the masterpiece around and to allow it to be displayed outside the sterilised confines of a modern museum.
“Moving the icon, whose condition is already bordering on emergency, will only accelerate the process of its destruction, which will be extremely difficult to stop,” the Russian Academy of Science said in a letter to Russia’s culture minister.
The painting was originally housed in the Trinity Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra in the old Rus town of Sergiyev Posad, northeast of Moscow, until the 1920s when Communists handed it over to the Tretyakov Museum. The Trinity Cathedral briefly displayed the icon last summer and the Orthodox Church has said that it intends to house it there permanently.
Patriarch Kirill, a suspected former Soviet spy, has been a staunch supporter of Mr Putin’s war in Ukraine and key to its propaganda.
Mr Putin believes that the Church holds sway over millions of Russians, especially in rural areas where they are more religious, and he makes sure to be seen in church on religious holidays.
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