Italy has formally handed back ownership of an Orthodox Church in the south of the country to Russia. Both countries’ presidents, Giorgio Napolitano and Dmitry Medvedev, were in Bari for the ceremony to return the key of the church dedicated to St Nicholas.
The fourth-century saint, who is closely associated with Christmas, is greatly revered among the Russian Orthodox faithful. The church was built to welcome the pilgrims who travelled to Italy from Russia to visit his remains interred nearby. But numbers dwindled after the Bolshevik revolution, and the city took ownership in 1937. Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini said handing back the church would undoubtedly strengthen ties between the two nations. It is also hoped the move will smooth often tense relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.