An ancient Russian iconostasis (image-screen) which in the 17th century graced the side-altar of the Solovetsky Cathedral of Transfiguration (dates from the 16th century and is located on the Solovetsky islands in the White Sea), will in May be shown to the general public in the Dutch town of Groningen. The authenticity of the screen and its high artistic and historical value have been confirmed by Moscow Kremlin experts.
The history of the iconostasis reads like a detective story. It was painted by Novgorod icon-painters in the third quarter of the 16th century, and then entered into an inventory of the Solovetsky Cathedral of Transfiguration. But in 1676, by orders of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, this old believers' abode was demolished by strelets soldiers, and the monks killed. But shortly before the collapse of the monastery, a group of old believers had secretly escaped to the Urals, taking along the monastery's main relic - the iconostasis.
For almost 400 years, it was toted from one clandestine prayer house to another until at the end of 1960s it found itself in the attic of a house owned by old believers in the Baltic region. With the Soviet Union breaking up, the Baltic states seceded from the USSR. The ancient Russian iconostasis found itself beyond Russia's boundaries. In 2001, its last owner put it up for sale in the Netherlands. But a Russian businessman, Konstantin Makarenko, residing in the Netherlands, persuaded the owner to return the ancient Russian relic to Russia. Makarenko informed Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis II and the administration of the Russian president of the existence of the iconostasis and got their backing. With the masterpiece examined by several experts, Makarenko convinced several Russian and Dutch sponsors of its genuineness, and they agreed to help preserve the ancient master-work and return it home.
The iconostasis consists of 22 icons and, according to experts, is one of the oldest integral monuments of Russian ecclesiastical art.