St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Nice returns to Russia

The Nice Superior Court in France has declared Russia to be the rightful owner of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral. "Russia is the rightful owner of the territory, the cathedral, as well as all its properties," the chair of the Nice Municipal High Court said.

The Patriarchate of Moscow claimed the cathedral should be returned to the Russian state, the successor to the tsarist regime. However, the Russian Orthodox Association of Nice (ACOR) opposed the claim, arguing the cathedral belongs to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople.

The ACOR said it will make an appeal to a court in the French city of Aix-en-Provence. The church was originally the property of Tsar Nicholas II, however, it was given to the archbishop of St. Petersburg with a 99-year lease, which expired on December 31, 2007.

In 2007, the Cote d'Azur region, which includes Nice at its center, declared the contents of the church part of the national patrimony which meant no part of it could be removed from France without the permission of the Ministry of Culture.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox Cathedral outside Russia, was built in 1912 in Nice and opened by Tsar Nicolas II, who also funded the construction, in the same place where his uncle Prince Nicolai Alexandrovich died in 1865. The cathedral is rich with icons, woodwork, and frescos.

It was established for the large Russian community that lived in the French Riviera and in Nice at the beginning of the 20th century. The cathedral is a popular tourist attraction with up to 200,000 people visiting it annually.

Last year, a Russian Orthodox Church dedicated to St. Nicholas in the Italian city of Bari was returned to Russian ownership. The church was built in the beginning of the 20th century to welcome Russians coming to the city to visit the 11th-century Basilica of St. Nicholas, where the saint's relics lie.

St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop, was famous for his generosity. He later developed into the figure of Santa Claus in some countries. In 1087, his remains were stolen from the ancient Turkish city of Myra by sailors from Bari.