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Greece welcomes Byzantine icon return

A Byzantine Icon was returned to Greece last month [1] after being smuggled out of the country 30 years ago – the country still awaits the return of the Elgin Marbles however, which are seen as by far the most important reunification request.

The Epoch Times [2]

Greece Welcomes Return of Byzantine Icon
Culture minister still awaits returns of ‘Elgin’ marbles
Reuters Dec 14, 2008

ATHENS—Britain returned a 14th century Byzantine icon to Greek authorities last month, 30 years after it was stolen from a monastery in northern Greece, the Culture Ministry said.

The painting of Christ being taken down from the Cross was snatched from a monastery in the city of Serres in 1978 and discovered in 2002 in the hands of a Greek collector in London.

A British court ruled this year the valuable painting should be returned to Greece, dismissing an appeal from its owner.

“Days like these are days of joy for all the people struggling to rescue our cultural inheritance,” Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said. “The icon stolen from the St. John the Baptist monastery will be returned to the place it was seized.”

Greece’s conservative government has launched a campaign to recover ancient artifacts and religious art smuggled out of the country and acquired by foreign museums and private collectors.

Top of this list are the Parthenon Marbles, part of the frieze that once adorned the 5th century B.C. temple of Athena on the Acropolis in central Athens.

The sculptures were taken to Britain in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece.

Liapis said the Byzantine icon would need restoration as it was painted over before it was smuggled out of Greece. The government would also ensure security at the monastery was tight enough to prevent a recurrence of the theft.

“The Culture Ministry does not encourage domestic ‘Elginism,'” he said. The icon will be displayed for two weeks at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens.