Silver Sarcophagus of Saint Alexander Nevsky Returned by Hermitage to the Russian Orthodox Church

A monumental silver sarcophagus of Saint Alexander Nevsky was returned by the Hermitage Museum to the namesake Russian Orthodox church, both in St Petersburg, Russia, reports the Art Newspaper. The sarcophagus is entombed in the largest silver monument in the world.

Alexander Nevsky was a 13th-century Russian war hero who was canonized in 1549. Nevsky was chosen by Peter the Great as the patron saint of the capital city and he commissioned the cathedral in Nevsky’s honor. The monument was housed there for more than two centuries until the Soviet’s embraced atheism and began removing religious objects from the public eye.

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The Hermitage museum saved the monument from destruction four times over the last 100 years. In 1922, for example, it was moved to the museum for an exhibition aimed at protecting the destruction of church silver.

The Baroque monument, commissioned by the Empress Elizabeth in 1743 and designed by court portrait painter Georg Christoph Groot, has a pyramid-like structure. At the bottom of the monument, sits the sarcophagus which has high relief battle scenes along the side and is topped with a crown and broken sword on its lid. Two pedestals on each side support arms and banners and two large candelabras flank the sides of the monument. At 16-feet tall, angels with inscribed shields sit at the top.

“The Hermitage is proceeding from an understanding that, at the present geopolitical moment, the reunification of relics with the tomb on the territory of the monastery has acquired a particular relevance for the fate of the country and of social peace within it. Today, the artifact’s religious significance is more important than its artistic value. For decades, the situation was the opposite,” said the Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky.

The Hermitage is expected to give the monument to the cathedral for 49 years with the option to extend the loan. As part of the agreement, the church must regulate conditions in accordance with the tomb’s preservation. Currently the property of the Museum Fund of Russia, the ministry of culture and head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill approved the transaction.

“The main criterion for the fate of cultural artefacts is not the physical location, but the preservation of the object within the sphere of the museum field or outside it,” Piotrovsky added.

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