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Putin gave Orthodox Church famed icon because of its importance to believers: Kremlin

By Lucy Papachristou

(Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to hand over the historic 15th-century Trinity icon from a museum to the Russian Orthodox Church because of its importance to believers, the Kremlin's spokesman said on Tuesday.The Church, whose conservatism Putin has espoused as part of his vision for Russia's national identity, is one of the most ardent institutional supporters of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Its head, Patriarch Kirill, said last year that those who died fighting in Ukraine would be purged of their sins.

Icons are stylised, often gilded religious paintings considered sacred in Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Andrei Rublyov's Trinity, one of the holiest and most artistically important Russian icons, is thought to have been painted to honour Saint Sergius of Radonezh in Sergiyev Posad, near Moscow. It depicts three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre in the Book of Genesis, the first of the Bible.

The icon has been transferred several times during periods of internal strife.

In 1929, the authorities of the officially atheist communist Soviet Union put it in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery. During World War Two it was put into safe storage for a time.

In 2022, the work was moved for religious celebrations back to a monastery in Sergiyev Posad: the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, spiritual centre of the Russian Church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "We could only dream that this sacred object would be returned to the Church, so that our people could pray before [it]," Kirill said in an address to the Church's ruling Holy Synod, expressing his "deepest gratitude" to Putin.

The Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement that the icon would be displayed for a year at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow before returning to Sergiyev Posad.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "This concerns a large number of believers in our country, for whom this is a very sacred object. For these, our believers, of course, hiding it in a museum doesn't fulfil their desire."

On Sunday, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg said it would transfer the tomb of Alexander Nevsky, a 13th-century prince and saint of the Russian Church, to another Russian monastery, in an effort to “bolster national unity”.

(Writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Kevin Liffey)