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Orthodox Church seeks control of Moscow icon museum

The fate of Ryazan's Art and History Museum could set a precedent for restitution

Officials at the Art and History Museum in the city of Ryazan, southeast of Moscow, have made a public plea to protect their museum from a takeover by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). While the conflict has been simmering behind the scenes for three years, museum officials have now gone public, appealing directly to the Russian Culture Ministry and President Vladimir Putin.

The museum houses some 250,000 items, one of the finest collections of medieval Russian works of art in existence. The collection includes around 500 rare medieval icons, dozens of medieval embroidered ecclesiastical vestments, and about 600 of the earliest books printed in Russia. It is housed inside Ryazan’s medieval fortress (or kremlin), which contains a museum and six ancient Russian Orthodox churches. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the state has returned to the ROC much of the property it owned before the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. The government is not prepared to restore certain prominent Orthodox cultural and architectural sites, such as St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. But the case of the Ryazan kremlin could set a precedent for the fate of dozens of other state-owned Orthodox sites around the country.

The ROC has also lobbied President Putin, alleging that five of the six churches in the Ryazan kremlin have been “desecrated”. Museum director Ludmila Maksimova refuted the charges, telling the Russian newspaper Novaya Izvestiya, “there are no restaurants or casinos on the museum territory”, as the diocese claims.

Archbishop Pavel of Ryazan and Kasimovis is so confident of victory that he has already appointed a local monk to act as a director of the museum which the ROC will rename the Russian Orthodox Historical and Archaeological Museum of the Ryazan Diocese.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Orthodox Church seeks control of icon museum'