Bucharest - When a gigantic mural of St. George appeared next to a historic church dedicated to the revered figure, many hailed it as a brilliant piece of street art. But the influential Romanian Orthodox Church was not amused.
The surreal interpretation, replete with a faceless saint and a masked unicorn with a pink tail, went up just yards from the 18th century church, triggering outrage from priests and pious residents. Days later it was painted over.
Officially, the church denies having a hand in erasing the mural and insists it is opposed to censorship. But supporters of the mural, which measured some 300 sq. meters (3,200 sq. feet), point to the church's behind-the-scenes social and political influence. The perpetrator of the whitewashing remains a mystery.
More than 80 percent of Romanians belong to the Orthodox Church, and some people in the neighborhood said the mural was disrespectful of traditional Orthodox artwork. By European standards, Romanians are fervently religious, many honoring saint's days, carrying icons in their wallets and crossing themselves when they pass a church. Support for the church surged after communism ended in 1989.
Father Emil Caramizaru, the church's head priest, told local radio that the mural was "like a caricature. It can be offensive to our consciousness as Christians." His comments led to accusations that the church wanted to censor art that did not fit Christian Orthodox dogma.
Artist Iustin Moldovan, the leader of the group that painted the mural, said he had been told by city officials that the mural would be painted over following church complaints. "This is censorship," he said. "We are going back to 1989" referring to the last year of Romania's communist dictatorship.
City Hall denied that either it or the church had ordered the mural wiped off. It referred questions to the owner of the building on which the mural was painted. The owner has not commented on the artwork.
After the row broke out, people flocked to the site and snapped photographs of the mural, which was on the side of a building in a rundown square next to the church built by Constantin Brancoveanu, a Romanian prince canonized in 1992 as a martyr.
The mural still has fans, especially among young people.
"It's a shame it's been wiped off," said 29-year-old Nicusor Cristea. "It was clearly St. George, and lots of people came to see it."