MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian mourners buried Soviet-era dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a sixteenth-century Moscow monastery on Wednesday during an elaborate religious ceremony attended by President Dmitry Medvedev.
Hundreds of elderly Russians came to bid farewell to the deeply religious Nobel literature prize laureate whose body lay wrapped in cloths and red roses for several hours in an open coffin in the Russian Orthodox ceremony.
Solzhenitsyn was buried on the monastery’s grounds after the service which was broadcast live on state television, featured a military band and had all the hallmarks of a state funeral.
Medvedev, who cut short his vacation to attend the ceremony, looked solemn as he gazed at Solzhenitsyn’s ashen face before offering condolences to his widow Natalia at the church, its high red ceilings decorated with paintings of Russian saints.
As priests chanted prayers and hymns, Natalia, her three sons and grandchildren silently wept and crossed themselves at the foot of Solzhenitsyn’s coffin.
Medvedev’s eyes welled up with tears when the coffin was lowered into the grave. Rifles were fired in salute and a tribute was played by a military band.
Solzhenitsyn, a prominent critic of the tyranny of Soviet rule and Josef Stalin’s labor camps, died in his house near Moscow of heart failure on Sunday aged 89.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, leader of the banned National Bolsheviks party Eduard Limonov, several members of the Russian literary elite and ordinary Russians all came together during the service as they held thin gold candles and chanted prayers.
“Truth is difficult to come by, and a lot of us don’t hear it enough. We’re probably not brave like him (Solzhenitsyn),” said Nadezhda Petrovna, 69, adding that she came to the funeral to pay respect to “one of the world’s greatest men.”
After the funeral, Medvedev signed a decree asking Moscow’s authorities to rename one of the capital’s streets after Solzhenitsyn.
For more than 20 years, Solzhenitsyn, a bearded World War Two veteran who spent eight years in labor camps for criticizing the Soviet government, became a symbol of intellectual resistance to Communist rule.
Solzhenitsyn attracted international attention after the publication in 1962 of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which chronicled the life of a labor camp prisoner.
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and later wrote “The Gulag Archipelago,” a monumental chronicle of his own and thousands of other prison camp experiences.
The Soviet Union stripped him of his citizenship in 1974 and he moved to Europe and then on to the United States.
Since his return in 1994, Russian leaders have treated Solzhenitsyn with great deference, though he became increasingly critical of corruption in modern Russia, which has grown rich over the last decade due to high energy and commodity prices.
The Donskoi monastery is the resting place of many prominent Russian thinkers. Solzhenitsyn was buried next to Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky.