Return of works of art to Church worries Russian experts

23rd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Plans to return religious art seized by the Soviet regime to the Orthodox Church have led to harsh protests by Russian museums who argue that churches would be unable to preserve objects properly.

The Russian parliament on Wednesday voted on a controversial restitution bill to hand back monasteries and churches that had often been turned into museums after the 1917 revolution.

"We hope that a second reading (of the bill) will allow for amendments" in late October, Alexander Shkurko of the Federation of Russian Museums told AFP.

After a heated debate the bill was "substantially" reworked in the first reading and no longer allows the restitution of icons, manuscripts and ritual objects currently held by museums.

But the federation and the Russian branch of the International Council of Museums also demand that 60 monasteries and churches of special interest to Russian history, including those on UNESCO's World Heritage List, are not returned to the Church, said Shkurko.

"These sites are of particular cultural importance," he added.

Museum conservators and art critics told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in February that "no Orthodox church is able to make sure icons and frescoes are properly preserved", notably because of smoke from candles lit by the faithful and changes in temperature and humidity.

Critics also argue that keeping these ritual treasures in churches will make them less accessible to a wider public.

The bill covers the restitution of 6,584 religious sites including 6,402 that would be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The rest would be returned to other religious communities such as Muslims and Buddhists.

© 2010 AFP

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