View from the Hermitage. Somebody Elseís Sins
When it comes to the religion we are very careful. But when we speak about the church and not the religion we should think about whether we go too far in our conclusions.
Recently at the international forum one Russian artist has been telling how he enjoyed decorating the exhibition in the church building. Coronations of the monarchs of the Netherlands and the most various exhibitions are taking place in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The church functions both as a church and as a museum. In the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul there is a huge hall with the relics of Prophet Muhammed. People come there to venerate the sacred objects. The fact that they do it in the doesnít prevent them from doing so. There are a lot of examples like that in the world. In todayís Russia it began to sound strange.
Our country more than others fears any demonstration of blasphemy. When discussing various topics we are careful not to utter profanities. For example, is it possible to organize concerts on the Palace Square when there is an angel with the cross above it?
When it comes to the religion we are very careful. But when we speak about the church but not the religion we should think about whether we go too far in our conclusions. My principled position is that it is necessary to be able to distinguish between secular and spiritual life. The division should be present otherwise we infringe the rights of many people including nonconformists and atheists.
In order to solve any problem constructive approach is necessary. Today somebody is trying to play off museums against the church. This does not have the most plausible intentions and interests behind it. This is very dangerous. We should not quarrel, but we should remember that it is not the church that is to blame for all the misfortunes of the museum, but the state. The state has no right to pray for forgiveness at the expense of the museums. If the museum has to leave the building allotted to the church it must move into another building that is accommodated for it. The talks about the present crisis and lack of money are groundless. We know that there is money andžit is available for a lot of projects that are not prioritized. It is not 1980s now when we were told that the state is poor and we believed that.
The relations between the state and the church during the course of the whole
history were not easy. It does not make any sense to discuss who when
owned what. It was not just the Bolsheviks that deprived the church
from its property. It should be remembered that the destruction
of the churches in 1920s was accompanied by mass enthusiasm. In the documentary
we can see the faces of people who are watching the demolition of the Cathedral
of Christ the Saviour. The faces are rather expressive. The processes
taking place in history should be looked upon
Today the role of the church and religious institutions is increasing and this is good. But as soon as the discussion concerns property, the situation sharpens. It is necessary to have coordination between us when it comes to such matters. It is time to create a conciliation commission. Then museums must have influence and authority in deciding property matters. Political decision is not enough for that.
The first exhibition of the ecclesiastical art in the Hermitage was opened by the former Metropolitan of Petersburg and Ladoga Patriarch Alexei. Much later during the evening service dedicated to the presentation of the Orthodox Encyclopaedia he said that we should not make the relations more intense and allow the atmosphere of spite and hatred that used to exist when the churches were robbed. It is not acceptable to create the same atmosphere around the museums. We should talk about the spiritual role but not about property.
It is enough to remember when during the
The church was deprived of its property many times and not just in Russia. In the Special Storeroom of the Hermitage there is a famous Freiburg Cross. At the beginning of the 19th century the monastery where the Cross belonged was secularized. Saving the sacred object the monks took it to Switzerland but secularization began there too. Realizing that they would not be able to save the sacred object they sold it to the collectors. The Cross ended in the private collection of Bazilevsky.
The sacred object of the Armenian Church, the Skevr Reliquary, is also from Bazilevskyís private collection. It is made from vermeil in the 13th century. This is a masterpiece of the Armenian ecclesiastical art. The hinged icon contained the box with the relics of the saints and not just Armenian. Just like the most ecclesiastical monuments the hinged icon has a long history. It got to Bazilevsky from the French collectors. Then Alexander III bought the collection for the Hermitage. At that time it was decided to leave the hinged icon in the museum while the relics were given to the church. After the revolution the box with relics was stored in the Department of the East and without the inventory pushed into the secluded place. This is an important element of curatorís psychology to preserve at any cost. If the existence of the relics had been known they would have been destroyed like the photos of the Royal family. When several years ago it was time to organize The Treasures of Holy Echmiadzin exhibition, the box with the relics was Ďfoundí. With the permission of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs the sacred object was given to the Armenian Church in St. Petersburg. Delegation from the Catholicos attended the ceremony. The relics were moved to Echmiadzin. Now the authorities of the church are inquiring for the copy of the hinged icon. The best restorers of the museum are deciding on how to make this happen. The Armenian Church and sponsors are ready to cover the expenses. I am telling this story with great detail since we have been concerned with it a lot. It can serve as an example of how to build relations between the museum and the church.
The Hermitage possesses a lot of icons with reliquaries. We made a list
and had negotiations with the mother superior of the
In my view the most revealing example is the shrine of St. Alexander Nevski. In 1920s the silver shrine was intended for remelting together with iconostasis of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. Trying to save the reliquary the direction of the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and several other persons appealed to the government explaining that the shrine is the monument of art, the first goldsmithery from silver in Russia, and the masterpiece. It was saved, but the idea or remelting the shrine appeared again. It had to be explained that there was not much silver in it, that it was mostly made of wood and the silver was only on the surface. In exchange the Hermitage gave up a part of duplicates of silver coins for remelting. Now we are talking about giving the shrine to the church. In the letters, also addressed to the President and the Prime Minister, Iíve mentioned the possibility of making a copy of the shrine. This would cost approximately six and a half million Euros. It was not the museums that robbed the churches; it was the state so it should reimburse the expenses. The sacred object in the museum is a work of art and has another function than in the church.
The Hermitage has good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Small
Throne Hall in the Winter Palace was illuminated by the chandelier
(church chandelier) from the Trinity Cathedral of the Alexander Nevski
Lavra (Monastery). The one that used to be here before the war fell down
and broke. The Monastery gave its own chandelier to us. In 1990s the board
of academics of the museum decided to return the chandelier to the Alexander
Nevski Lavra (Monastery). Since then we canít find the replacement. The eparchy
has the church chandelier from the church of the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of the General Staff Building. None is planning to return it but
we do not demand. In the temple of the Tretyakov State Gallery there is the
For many years the museums preserved the religious information that helped
to recreate the church. A lot of people learnt about Apostle Paul from the guides
stories by the painting by Paolo Veronese. The Hermitage exhibition
of the Orthodox art in 2001 became the celebration of the Orthodox Church.
It was the second most attended exhibition in the world. The icons from St. Catherineís
monastery on Mount Sinai were presented there. At that
time only the Hermitage was able to bring them to Russia. We also organized
an exhibition in Amsterdam that was dedicated to the Russian pilgrimage
to the Holy Land. Who else could have told about the traditions of the Russian
pilgrimage to the
There are not too many institutions in Russia that preserve spirituality. Essentially, these are libraries, museums and churches. We should take good care of each other. I communicate with the heads of churches, participate in the church trips, almost every year I attend the descent of the Holy Fire. All that does not contradict with the life of the director of the museum and does not indicate my excessive devoutness.
There are a lot of forms for our possible cooperation. My article