Célébrer la Réformation en donnant un coup de pied à la Vierge Marie
In October 2016, the year-long celebration of the Lutheran reformation began with an ecumenical service in Tallinn. Together with the Reformation, the Lutheran church celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence, and the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia in 2018. This is marked by a series of events, gathered under the title Landmarks of Freedom.
Just a few months before that, the Estonian National Museum opened in Tartu. The museum, founded in 1909, has for decades operated in various buildings and has waited for its own house for more than a century. After a grand opening ceremony, an exhibit gained much attention – in a section where the Lutheran reformation was described, the destruction of sacred pictures and church belongings during the reformation was mentioned. An animation was provided : every visitor could identify themselves as one of the vandals who committed the destruction, by kicking an image of the Virgin Mary with their foot. She would then fall into pieces, and after seconds would become one again.
A question was then raised by religious leaders, and gained so much attention from the public in the following weeks that it sadly overshadowed the opening of the new museum. Church leaders emphasized that the kicking was an unpedagogical way of interpreting the Reformation, because it was against Christian principles to kick someone. The fact that it was the Virgin Mary made the kicking even worse, because without any explanation, this could be interpreted as kicking a young woman. On the other hand, some defended the interpretation, emphasizing the need to remind that the Reformation had not been as smooth a process as what we might think it was. What made the public reaction even worse, was the first explanation given by the museum. The PR person of the museum defended the interpretation, claiming that in a society where there was no state church, it was possible to make fun about religion, and interpret historical as well as religious events with a sense of humor. The director of the Museum, Tõnis Lukas, later tried to soften the interpretation, explaining that the museum did not want to make fun of any particular group in the society, but wanted to unite people. He agreed that kicking the Virgin Mary was probably not the best way to explain the Lutheran Reformation, and decided to remove the possibility to kick her offered as an animation. Consequently, the exhibit itself was not removed, but the animation and the kicking were. The visitor can now only see how the Virgin Mary collapses, and after a few seconds, is put together again.