An image of the Virgin Mary in a museum in Estonia, designed to be desecrated to commemorate the Protestant Reformation, has provoked protests from religious and political leaders.
The exhibit in the recently-opened National Museum of Estonia, in Tartu, is part of an exhibition on the Reformation in Estonia. It shows a virtual image of Our Lady of Graces on a screen in a glass box. If visitors kick a marked spot on the plinth supporting the box the image shatters into pieces and is replaced by the word “Reformation”. The screen then refreshes.
The museum’s Facebook page says the exhibit is an “artistic representation of the theme of iconoclasm”.
Archbishop Urmas Viilma of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church said that the exhibit ridicules religion and insults the feelings of believers.
He wrote on Facebook: “I very seriously doubt that this exhibit is suitable for the permanent collection of the National Museum of Estonia, even if it is interesting from a technical point of view or from the perspective of modern approach to the depiction of historical events.” He added: “The virgin Mary for a huge number of believers is not some historical figure or event, gone into oblivion, but a reality today. The ridicule was an insult to the feelings of believers.”
The archbishop continued: “Our Lady is not merely a stature or an idea, but a real saint who resides with God. She is always present with the faithful on Earth and she intercedes on our behalf. She is the ultimate incarnation of woman, sinless and holy, and the Mother of God. As such, she deserves the utmost respect, not to be treated with disrespect.
“While visitors are destroying a virtual image of a statue, and cannot in any way harm Our Lady, the desecration of her image is still unacceptable. Even from an educational perspective.
“The Protestant Reformation was largely a political and economic movement, in addition to a religious schism. Our Lady was not part of that evil. Her role in our world served to facilitate our salvation. She does not deserve for her Holy name, or her image to be desecrated.”
The chairman of the opposition Conservative People’s Party, Mart Helme, who was Estonia’s ambassador to Russia in the 1990s, said there would be a strong reaction from the Russian-speaking community.
“Most Russians living in Estonia are actively religious people and their integration is not helped by religious insult approved on a state level,” he said.
“The image should be removed as soon as possible because the virtual destruction the authors offer insults the feelings of religious Russian-speaking residents and hinders their integration.”
Estonia became largely Lutheran in the 16th century. Although much of the population has no religious affiliation, the 2011 census showed 108,000 Lutherans and just 4,500 Catholics.