Hermitage head defies Russian Orthodox Church over cathedral

The director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has urged the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to recall its bid for the city's landmark cathedral.

Several hundred people rallied outside the iconic St. Isaac's Cathedral earlier this month, fearing that its transferal from the city to the church may inhibit public access. Another protest is set for the weekend.

In a letter to Patriarch Kirill late Wednesday, Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky argued that "peace in people's souls and harmony in the society are more important than any assets." He urged the church to temporarily recall its demand for the cathedral's handover to help assuage the controversy.

The planned transfer of the landmark has been seen as part of a growing trend toward social conservatism in Russia.