Byzantine icon returns in Macedonia

Britain returns Byzantine icon

A Byzantine icon that was stolen from a monastery in northern Greece 30 years ago and ended up in the hands of a London-based art collector a few years ago, has been returned to Greece, the Culture Ministry said yesterday. The 14th-century painting, which shows Christ being taken down from the cross, disappeared from a monastery in the northern town of Serres in 1978. Greek authorities traced its whereabouts in 2002 when a British collector, who is reportedly of Greek origin, attempted to sell it. Greek authorities alerted the British police after the collector allegedly refused to hand over the painting despite being shown evidence that it had been illegally smuggled out of the country. A British court finally ruled earlier this year that the painting should be returned to Greece, dismissing an appeal from the collector who has owned it for the past six years.

“Days like these are a joy for all those struggling to rescue our cultural legacy,” Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said.

The icon is to be returned to the John the Baptist Monastery in Serres after undergoing restoration at Athens’s Byzantine and Christian Museum. Liapis said security would be intensified at the museum to prevent another theft. “The Culture Ministry does not encourage domestic ‘Elginism,’” he said.

Liapis exploited the development yesterday to reiterate Greece’s bid for the repatriation of smuggled artifacts, including the Parthenon Marbles which are in London’s British Museum. “The ministry is making a major effort on a daily basis to repatriate monuments that have fallen victim to criminal activity,” Liapis added. In recent months, Greece has reclaimed antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Shelby White collection in New York.…11/2008_102310

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