MOSCOW (AP) – Russian Orthodox worshipers celebrated Trinity Sunday as Russia’s most famous icon was moved from a museum to Moscow’s main cathedral despite vocal protests from the keepers.
The Trinity icon by Andre Rublev, which had been housed in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery since the 1920s, was moved to the Christ the Savior Cathedral ahead of the holiday on the personal order of President Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s sudden decision to hand over the 15th-century icon to the church came despite strong protests from Tretyakov’s keepers, who warned the icon was too fragile to move and its condition required constant care to avoid severe deterioration .
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill dismissed a senior priest who had advised museum keepers to place the icon in the Tretyakov Gallery.
Kirill led the service at the cathedral on Sunday, which was attended by hundreds of faithful, including some officials.
The controversy over the icon continued to swirl on Saturday, when Kirill announced it would remain in the cathedral for a year, while both the Ministry of Culture and the Tretyakov Gallery said they expected the icon to be returned after two weeks.
In July 2022, the Tretyakov Gallery lent the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church for several days to be displayed in the Trinity Cathedral of St. Sergius Monastery in Sergiev Posad, where it was originally kept. The museum later stated that it had found 61 negative changes in its condition following its return.
Observers saw Putin’s order to relocate the cathedral despite strong opposition from museum staff as a reflection of his desire to strengthen ties with the church, which has strongly supported the Russian military operation in Ukraine. Some also interpreted the move as a sign of Putin’s apparent belief in the icon’s miraculous power amid setbacks in the fighting in Ukraine.