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Do Nikola Tesla’s Remains Belong in a Church?

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Philip Kosloski - published on 06/06/16

Dispute continues over whether Serbian inventor's ashes should be placed in St. Sava's Cathedral in Belgrade

For the past several decades the ashes of world-renowned inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla have been on display in a museum in his home country of Serbia. His remains are contained in a gold sphere and featured in a tribute to his life’s work.

This past week a dispute over the location of Tesla’s ashes was renewed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, which strongly believes his remains should be interred in St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade. The church’s statement claimed, “The Serbian Orthodox Church had always been present in the life and deeds of the great Nikola Tesla.”

A priest told Reuters that they weren’t opposed to the museum honoring Tesla’s work, but that Tesla’s “remains should not be in a corner there, where they are not visible to everyone. Here they would be visible to everyone.”

This is not the first time that the Serbian Church has asked for the transfer of Tesla’s remains. Two years ago government officials were pressured by the church to move his ashes to the cathedral, but their plans were thwarted by a public outcry. A Facebook campaign, Leave Tesla Alone, garnered tens of thousands of supporters and the Serbian government buckled under the secular campaign.

Serbian film and theatre director Gorcin Stojanovic, a leading figure in the opposition to a church burial, explained in an interview, “I just don’t believe Tesla belongs in a church. He was not an ancient king, nor a saint. He was a scientist.” Many claim that because he was an open-minded scientist his urn belongs with his inventions and not in the middle of an Orthodox church.

Tesla is seen as a national hero in Serbia even though he spent many years in New York and died there in 1943. During his time in the United States, Tesla worked for Thomas Edison and then later pursued his own ideas to develop major advancements in the fields of electricity, x-ray and radio. Elon Musk has even paid tribute to Tesla by naming an electric car after the inventor.

Some claim that the dispute is fueled by economic reasons, as a transfer of Tesla’s remains would mean more tourism for the cathedral. When asked to comment about the renewed request, the museum said “only that it had not been officially informed of the latest proposal to move the ashes by ‘an appropriate state institution,’” hinting that it would again refuse the demand of the Orthodox Church.

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