Every year, the Nikola-Lenivets art park, near Moscow, Russia, burns a wooden structure to celebrate Maslevitsa, the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. This year, founder Nikolay Polissky burned the largest structure yet – a 30-meter-high Gothic cathedral made of wooden branches.
On February 17, 2018, art lovers gathered at the Nikola-Lenivets art park witnessed one of the largest bonfires in recent history – a wooden cathedral built for the sole purpose of being raised to the ground. A team of around 20 workers had laboured for three months under the guidance of famous Russian artist Nikolay Polissky, assembling the dry tree branches into the impressive 30-meter Gothic edifice, only to see it eaten up by the flames in a matter of minutes. It was an impressive display indeed, but a controversial one as well.
Apparently, some people didn’t take too well to the burning of a Christian building, even if it was just a replica. The fact that it was done to celebrate Maslevitsa, a pagan Slavic holiday, only added insult to injury. Some clerics in the Russian Orthodox Church asked that the event be investigated as an anti-Christian incitement, and one TV personality tweeted that Polissky and his team should have stuck with a connotation-free effigy.
“I don’t understand why somebody would burn down a 30-meter Catholic church instead of a harmless effigy on a folk-Orthodox festival?” TV personality Maksim Galkin wrote in his Instagram.
Browsing through the comments section of websites covering the event, it’s pretty clear that the idea of burning down a life-size replica of a Christian cathedral doesn’t sit too well with the Russian public either, but Polissky was quick to clarify that his art project was not anti-Christian in nature.
“The structure we have built is not a gothic cathedral but a great pyre resembling a cathedral in shape,” he told The Village. “I hope when we set it on fire we will see a church made of fire, seemingly made not by human hands, floating and dazzling. As an artist I expect to see a glimpse of flamboyant architecture, not some game of spirituality using wicker and matches.”
However, when that explanation failed to convince his critics, the founder of Nikola-Lenivets took to Facebook to clarify things even more.
“There was nothing of religious worship in my art object, of course there were no crosses, altar or any religious symbols,” the artist said. “This is not a copy of any existing structure of religious worship nor an imitation of a church. It is simply a bonfire built in the style of a Gothic building.”
Polissky added that he hopes for “dialogue with representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox churches” and asked the church, Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox Christians for forgiveness.
“Today is Forgiveness Sunday and I ask all Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians to forgive me for Christ’s sake,” he concluded his message.