The Hermitage is returning Alexander Nevsky’s shrine to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Mikhail Piotrovsky told RG about the meaning and conditions for the transfer of the shrine to the Church

And now, after 100 years, we transfer responsibility for this great exhibit of ours to the Church … We saved, and now we transfer – why?

Because in today’s geopolitical situation, the sacred, symbolic meaning of the shrine and the tomb of Alexander Nevsky, as the holy protector and patron of the Russian army and Russian diplomacy, is much more important than their artistic significance.

This monument has always been considered half secular, half sacred, but today the situation is changing, and the sacred comes to the fore. We in the Hermitage have always defended it as a monument of Russian art, but today the symbolic meaning of the gravestone is more important.

This was requested by the patriarch, addressing the president, and in response we agreed to hand over the gravestone to the church. A corresponding letter was signed and an exemplary contract was drawn up. It was signed by me and Metropolitan Varsonofy of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, and then approved and agreed upon by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ and Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova.

The transfer order was issued on May 12 and signed by First Deputy Minister of Culture Sergei Obryvalin.

Cancer of Alexander Nevsky in the Hermitage. Photo from 1970 Photo: RIA Novosti

Another important aspect of this story is that with this program we demonstrate an example of museum diplomacy, once again offering the whole world a solution to the most important world problem – the restitution of museum values. Today, all museums are required to give something back. Recently there was a big article in The New York Times with a story about how museum items are regularly arrested and taken out to the Met, based on the fact that they were once illegally brought in. A new museum system is being built in the world, and by returning the tomb we are contributing to the resolution of not just a global discussion, but a very big problem of the existence of modern museums. In essence, our return of the Alexander Nevsky tombstone church is the same as transferring the Parthenon frieze from the British Museum to Greece. By the level, by the scale of what was done – yes.

It is very important that we in the Hermitage have the experience of an individual approach to such restitution requirements. We, as you know, did not give away the paintings from Malmaison. But they gave the Pergamon altar. They gave away the ritual cauldron from the mausoleum of Ahmad Yasevi. They made a copy of the cup of St. Hedwig and transferred it to the Belarusian Novogrudok. They made a copy of the Skevr fold and handed it over to the Armenian Church. The stained-glass windows of the Marienkirche were handed over to Germany, but the German paintings remain with us. And antiquities from German museums, the so-called displaced values ​​- we study together. That is, we have three excellent options for action – transfer, copying and joint study of the things remaining in our museums.

I want to emphasize that for a cultural monument, it is not so much the place of its placement that is important, but the preservation of the object in the sphere of the museum field …

But at the same time, one must understand that any finding of a masterpiece in public space is a risk. In a museum, this risk is less than in a church.

Today, however, the open struggle and the museum’s insistence that the tombstone remain in a non-risk museum space is dangerous for, relatively speaking, the social world. Now to resist, disagree, say a firm “no”, it’s like calling people to some kind of social disobedience, to the streets, etc. In the current situation, this carries other, non-museum, but no less dangerous risks.

So the tombstone will stand in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Trinity Cathedral is being restored. The tomb is also under restoration – we have a sarcophagus ready, trophies too, and a huge pyramid needs to be done for a few more years.

Opening of the shrine of Alexander Nevsky on May 12, 1922 Photo: RIA Novosti

We agreed on strict storage conditions for the tombstone in the Lavra. The text of the contract very clearly states that all conditions of the temperature and humidity regime must be observed. All this is described in great detail in the appendix to the contract. The fact is that in the hall where the tombstone stood, we have a special ventilation and air purification system. And after restoration, these things cannot even be cleaned with any brush. To store the tombstone, all the conditions I mentioned, including a showcase, must be provided. The tombstone must be placed in a climatic display case. Of course, we have no small fear that someone will one day wipe the tomb with a rag. The agreement provides for regular control of the Hermitage over its condition.

So it will be possible to move the tombstone to the Lavra only after the Hermitage confirms that the conditions for its storage there are correct. The contract we signed also says that if the storage conditions are not met, then the lender (and this is the Hermitage) has the right to unilaterally terminate the contract.

We are giving away a tombstone for 49 years – this is a temporary storage, with the possibility of automatic extension, if there is no obstacle to this.

I think that at first the tombstone will be kept in the Church of the Annunciation, then in the Trinity Cathedral, and, of course, there is also a risk in these movements.

Representatives of the clergy in the Holy Trinity Alexander Nevsky Lavra at the moment of opening the shrine of Alexander Nevsky Photo: RIA Novosti

By signing the contract, we take on a considerable responsibility. We guess that we will, to put it mildly, objected more than once, and we will force the new custodians to follow something. But it is important that we still have normal relations with the St. Petersburg diocese. Both with Metropolitan Barsanuphius and with Bishop Nazarius, we have been constantly in touch lately. We have good ties with both the Lavra Museum and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. And to some extent, proceeding from this, the transfer of the gravestone to the Lavra can be regarded as the development of the Great Hermitage project. The Alexander Nevsky Lavra thus becomes for us in the museum world a kind of “companion” of the Hermitage.

The Lavra should provide an opportunity to freely see the tomb for those for whom it is, above all, an important cultural monument. In principle, I do not see any particular obstacles to this, everyone can enter the Orthodox Church.

Now it depends on us – both on the Hermitage and on the diocese – how we build a system of mutual relations. Before us is a masterpiece of art that needs to be both preserved and made available to everyone so that it fulfills its symbolic function. And so helped our victory.

Let me remind you once again that the tombstone of Alexander Nevsky is a masterpiece of jewelry art. Not very Russian, because it was made by German masters. This Elizabethan baroque looks, to put it mildly, not at all Orthodox. But this is a masterpiece of wonderful silver jewelry work. The headstone itself is not made of silver. Talking about one and a half tons of silver is sometimes confusing. It is actually a wooden tomb, covered with a thin sheet of silver that is easily wiped off. That’s why she was in such a state of disrepair. But now we have restored it.

Let’s not forget also that this is the first commercially mined silver. That this is a monument to the Peace of Nishtad – after all, Peter brought the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky to St. Petersburg for a reason. The relics themselves have a difficult fate, they burned, then they were transported, they were taken out and checked several times. Including in 1917 before evacuation to Moscow.

This masterpiece and monument to Elizabeth, a monument to Russian history, is why it looked so organically in the Hermitage. After all, the Winter Palace is Russian state history itself. And imperial history immediately appears in the Winter Palace – at the entrance, where we have collected all the Alexanders named after Alexander Nevsky. And Alexander I with a military gallery, and the room where Alexander II died, and his uniform, and Alexander III in portraits. This is all one big historical museum context.

But today the severity of the situation we are experiencing requires special attention to the sacred context. And this sacredness must be revealed, proven.

Source: Российская газета by

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