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Sunday, December 01, 2013

The largest haul of looted church artefacts make a return to Cyprus

It has been a joyous few months as the largest haul of looted church icons, frescoes and mosaics make a return to Cyprus.

No monetary value can be placed on the return of the 173 items stolen from the Orthodox and Maronite Christian churches in the occupied areas some of which included fragments of a 1,500-year-old mosaic and 1,100 year-old frescoes — the oldest of their kind in Cyprus which traces its roots in Christianity to the 1st century.

A 1997 police raid uncovered the religious treasures in a Turkish art dealer's apartment in Munich, Germany.

More on this from the Cyprus Weekly:

Over 170 church icons, frescoes and mosaics, removed from museums and monasteries in occupied Cyprus after the Turkish invasion were handed over to the government by Germany, after a four-decade journey. 

It is the largest haul of looted church icons ever repatriated to Cyprus, comprised of 173 artworks of significant historical value that will now be hosted at the Byzantine Museum of the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation.

A special ceremony marked the return of the items stolen from 50 Orthodox and Maronite Christian churches in the occupied areas of Cyprus. 

The repatriation was achieved following years of legal wrangling with the Regional Court of Munich.

Speaking at the ceremony, German Ambassador in Cyprus, Gabriela Guellil welcomed the return of the icons “in what is probably the largest and most important case of repatriation of Cypriot artefacts in recent history".

“The return of the 173 religious artefacts underlines both the excellent bilateral relations between Germany and Cyprus and Germany’s commitment to honour her obligations under the respective UNESCO Convention from 1970,” said Gabriela Guellil.

She added that the German government is currently working on a new version of the German law for the protection of cultural objects which aims at speeding up the process of repatriation in the near future.

Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said the items are unique examples of ecclesiastical art of Cyprus and will be temporarily exhibited in the Byzantine Museum until they can be returned to their rightful place.

“These holy artefacts are an indispensable part of the cultural and religious life of Cyprus.”

He said that this case has brought to light the extent of the damage caused to the island’s cultural heritage during the invasion. 

“Frescoes and mosaics were violently and irrevocably damaged, with some icons cut in pieces in order for more of them to be sold at a higher price,” said Mitsopoulos. 

“We are hoping that soon we will be able to host in the museum the rest of the artefacts that are still in Munich.” 

He hoped that this case will help speed up the process for the return of other unlawfully removed cultural treasures found abroad.

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