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Nikola Tesla’s ashes spark battle between Serbian scientists and Orthodox church

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A furious dispute has erupted between Serbian scientists and the Orthodox church after it was announced that the remains of the inventor Nikola Tesla will be reburied in a church.

A pioneer in fields such as electricity, radio and x-rays, Tesla had 300 patents under his name by the time he died in 1943 and is revered by some as one of the most important scientific brains of the late 19th and early 20th century.

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Tesla died in the US where he had spent much of his life, but in 1957 his ashes were moved to the Nikola Tesla museum in Belgrade, now the Serbian capital.

Under pressure from the Serbian Orthodox church, government officials announced last week that they are planning to move Tesla’s remains from the museum to the city’s St Sava church – the largest Orthodox church in the world – where it is to be reburied alongside national heroes including the 14th-century Prince Lazar, who led a Christian army against the invading Ottomans.

Scientists in Serbia have criticised the move, due to be carried out this July, arguing that Tesla was not religious and should be upheld as a “figurehead for science” rather than religion. The Tesla museum has also called for the remains to stay put, highlighting that it is the wish of his descendants, who asked for the urn to be transported to the then Yugoslavian capital in the 50s.

“We stay firm with the opinion it is much better to have the urn in the museum,” said the museum’s director, Vladimir Jelenkovic. “This is the right place to keep it, knowing the open-minded soul Tesla had. After all it was the wish of his successors to keep the urn in the museum. We are obliged to accept their wishes.”

A Facebook campaign, Leave Tesla Alone, started almost immediately after the announcement was made and has already gathered more than 30,000 supporters on social media who want to see Tesla’s ashes stay where they are.

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Church leaders, however, say that the museum is not an appropriate resting place for Tesla. Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox church told local media: “It is natural that such the name of Serbian history rests in peace at holiest place of Serbian history.”

Tesla is best known for his work on alternating current and his ideas were used in the development of radio communications, the electric motor and radar.

Born in Smiljan – which is now in Croatia – in 1856, he went to university in Graz, Austria, and began working for the inventor Thomas Edison in 1884. The pair fell out, however, and each battled for years to convince the world that his way of generating electricity was better and more efficient than the other’s.

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