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Russian minister claims icon in Vatican is copy

Russia's culture minister has said that the revered icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which Pope John Paul II would like to return to Russia, is an 18th-century copy of the 16th-century original.

The Interfax news agency says a group of Russian museum experts, Russian Orthodox Church officials and representatives of the regional government of Tatarstan - of which Kazan is the capital - have researched the icon, which is hanging in the pope's apartments in the Vatican. The group also performed a joint expertise with Vatican experts, but the results of their work have not been made public.

"The question is whether this is really the icon that was stolen from Kazan several centuries ago, or if it was painted later. And the experts' conclusion is that the icon was made in the 18th century," Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi was quoted as saying.

No one at the Vatican could be reached for official comment, but officials have indicated that even if the object at the Vatican ends up being considered a copy, the religious value the icon holds for the faithful doesn't change, and the Pope has said he intends to give it back.

Shvydkoi's comments came amid growing speculation of a possible papal trip to Russia. The Holy Father is known to hold a strong hope that such a visit will eventuate, but Russian Orthodox leaders continue to resist his overtures because of perceived aggressive missionary activity on the part of the Catholic Church.

AP/Russia Journal

Pope confirms intention to return Icon of Our Lady of Kazan to Russia (2/4/03)
Icon could hold key to Church dialogue (Catholic Weekly)

29 Apr 2003