Estonian Christians Angry About Artwork Telling Visitors To Kick Virgin Mary

The new National Museum of Estonia in Tartu.DGT Architects

The opening of Estonia's new National Museum has been overshadowed by protests from Church leaders and politicians over an exhibit they say mocks religion.

The exhibit is a virtual image of the Virgin Mary in a glass box. Visitors are invited to kick a spot on the plinth of the display, whereupon the image appears to fly into pieces and the word "Reformation" appears.

Visitors are encouraged to kick the exhibit.

The Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Urmas Viilma, said the image offends 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.

"The virgin Mary for a huge number of believers is not some historical figure or event, gone into oblivion, but a reality today."

He said the "ridicule" was an "insult to the feelings of believers".

Politicians have also waded in to the row. The chairman of the opposition Conservative People's Party, Mart Helme, said there would be a particularly negative reaction in 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," Helme 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."

Helme, who was Estonia's ambassador to Russia in the 1990s, warned that "mocking the symbols of faith also has a political dimension to it". He said: "An attack on symbols may lead to an escalation of social tensions and a cooling of inter-state relations."

Formerly part of the USSR, Estonia is on the front line between Europe and Russia and is the focus of rising fears about Russian expansionism following the assault on Ukraine. Last year it announced it would build a border fence to improve security.