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Activists Protest Landmark St. Petersburg Cathedral's Handover To Church

  • RFE/RL's Russian Service

St. Isaac's is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world and the largest Orthodox Christian basilica. 

St. Isaac's is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world and the largest Orthodox Christian basilica. 

Activists in St. Petersburg have protested the decision of the Russian city's government to hand over the landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Activists from the Vesna (Spring) movement hung a banner saying "Not RPTs" -- the Russian acronym for the Russian Orthodox Church -- on the iconic building on January 11.

The banner was removed in about three minutes by police. No arrests were reported.

The protest took place a day after St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko said that the issue of handing over the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church "is decided."

On January 9, reports said Poltavchenko had ordered the handover of the building, which is officially a museum, to be completed by the end of 2017.

Museum Director Nikolai Burov said on January 11 that it will take time to determine the disposition of the "several thousand" items inside the museum and that, in the meantime, planned restoration of the historic building will continue.

A spokeswoman for the church said public access to the building, which receives about 3.5 million visitors a year, would continue "as before."

Completed in 1858, the cathedral, a registered UNESCO heritage site, is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world and the largest Orthodox Christian basilica.

However, because of the expense of maintaining it, it has always been the property of the government -- even before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

St. Isaac's housed the Museum of Religion and Atheism during the Soviet period. Since 1990, it has been managed jointly by the church and the city of St. Petersburg.

With reporting by TASS
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