Andrei Rublev’s 15th-century Trinity icon will remain at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral for a month longer than planned until 18 July, despite assurances by Russia’s culture ministry that it would only spend two weeks there before being sent for restoration.
A short statement on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website on Friday evening, 16 June, announced the latest twist in the fate of the icon, which has played a central role in Russian history for centuries.
“Irresponsible statements about the alleged sabotage by the Russian ministry of culture of the execution of the order of the President of the Russian Federation to transfer the icon to the use of the Church have no basis,” said the statement.
The icon, Russia’s most famous work of art, has been kept in the State Tretyakov Gallery since 1929 after being seized by the Soviet state. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the handover of the icon from the Tretyakov to the Russian Orthodox Church. The return is widely regarded as Putin’s thanks to Patriarch Kirill I for his vocal support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The new date for the transfer, 18 July, is the day of the feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who is linked to Russia’s 14th-century victory over Mongol invaders. The patriarch has said that the icon will return to the monastery near Moscow founded by St. Sergius, where it used to be kept.
A similarly abrupt announcement on the church website in May preceded the transfer of the icon to the cathedral for the celebration of Pentecost on 4 June. The transcript of a meeting of restorers at the Tretyakov before the move detailing fears about the state of the icon was leaked to social media. Archpriest Leonid Kalinin, who represented the church at the meeting, said a high-tech capsule should be created to protect the icon if “political will” instigates its transfer. He was immediately fired and banned from serving by Patriarch Kirill
The official Tass news agency reported on Saturday that up to 6,000 pilgrims a day have been venerating the icon, which is being kept behind glass at the centre of the cathedral.
Deputy Culture Minister Sergei Obryvalin informed the Tretyakov last week that the Trinity would be sent to the Grabar Art Conservation Centre in Moscow rather than the museum.