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St. Petersburg police seize human remains advertised on the Web -1

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MOSCOW, February 7 (RIA Novosti) - St. Petersburg police have confiscated human remains which were advertised for sale on the Internet as sacred relics earlier this week, a culture official said Wednesday.

"Law-enforcement officials in St. Petersburg confiscated the human remains - a skull and a humerus," said Anatoly Vilkov, deputy head of Russia's culture protection agency.

On the Web site, a seller calling himself Boris Georgiev from St. Petersburg offered to sell "to connoisseurs of Russian antiquity the remains of an Orthodox saint (a skull in good condition and an upper arm bone) that ended up in private hands from the Kazan Cathedral of St. Petersburg in the 1920s." The Web posting included an e-mail address, a telephone number and a photo of the items.

Vilkov said his agency had sent a request to St. Petersburg police to investigate the incident, saying the purported relics could belong to the Religion History Museum of Russia's second largest city.

"The holders were identified yesterday, and the items have been confiscated by police and handed over to the local northwest department of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Legislation in Mass Communications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage," Vilkov said.

The official said experts would soon examine the confiscated objects, and that numbers imprinted on the skull might help establish their origins. He also said the religious significance of the remains would be assessed along with property rights.

The Russian Orthodox Church has condemned the attempted sale as "blasphemous" and "immoral".

"It is an immoral act in any event. And if these are indeed holy relics, it is an outrageous blasphemy," said Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchy's department for external relations.

"If these are the remains of an ordinary person, then it is a desecration of a deceased individual," he said.

Chaplin said that when the Moscow Patriarchy learned of the advertisement, it called the given telephone number and found out that the relics were indeed for sale.

He said that this was the first such attempt to sell sacred relics in Russia, and that in religious practice sacred relics are never sold but transferred.

Vladislav Kirillov, head of the antiques department in the St. Petersburg police, said the bones contained registration numbers identifying them as belonging to the Religion History Museum.

"We cannot rule out that these remains had not been stolen but had been written off some time ago," he said. "But then the ethical question is why they were not buried."

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