Pope orders return of Parthenon sculptures to Greece – DW – December 16, 2022

The Roman Catholic Church is returning to Greece three parts of the Parthenon that have been kept in the Vatican Museums for centuries.

Pope Francis presented it to Ieronymus II, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, “as a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow the ecumenical path of truth,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis met with Archbishop of Athens and head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Ieronymus II, in December 2021 in Athens, Greece
The Vatican described the gesture as a “donation” from the Pope to the head of the Greek Orthodox ChurchCredit: George Vitsaras/Pool/AP/Picture Alliance

The sculptures are remnants of a 160-meter-long frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis.

These include the head of a horse that pulled Athena’s chariot, which has been in the Vatican collection since the 19th century.

The others are the head of a young boy believed to be taking part in a procession commemorating the founding of Athens and a bearded male head, according to the official Vatican News website.

Broader restitution debate

The Vatican is the latest western state to return its fragments of the Parthenon marble.

Travelers visiting the Acropolis in the 18th century often made a point of taking a piece of the Parthenon with them, as Impulse and half of the remaining works were controversially removed by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin, in the early 19th century.

He sold them to the British government in 1816 and the sculptures have been housed in the British Museum for almost two centuries.

One of the three fragments of Parthenon sculpture preserved by the Vatican Museums
Three marble fragments are returned, including the head of a horse that pulled the chariot of the ancient Greek goddess Athena of wisdom, war and craftsImage: Vatican Museums/REUTERS

When a museum in Sicily, Italy, returned a 2,500-year-old Parthenon marble fragment to Athens in January, it sparked further calls for the British Museum to start talks about returning its marble sculptures.

However, the British Museum has denied any chance of an immediate return of the marbles, despite reports of secret negotiations between the institution and Greece.

The German Foreign Minister personally presented 20 Benin Bronzes

Museums around the world, from the United States to France, have returned items acquired in dismal circumstances, often from former colonial strongholds.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she would personally bring back 20 artifacts looted by Europeans during the colonial era to Nigeria when she visits the country next week.

The symbolic gesture follows an agreement between Berlin and Abuja earlier this year that all 514 so-called Benin bronzes from German museums will be returned to Nigeria.

Germans return looted art to Nigeria

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“With her trip Foreign Minister [Annalena] Baerbock keeps this promise,” said spokesman Christofer Burger to journalists in Berlin.

In November 2021, France returned 26 works of art stolen from the former Kingdom of Dahomey to Benin.

The Holy See wanted to make it clear on Friday that the decision to return the marbles from the Vatican State to Greece was not a bilateral decision, but a religiously inspired donation.

The statement may have been formulated in an effort not to set a precedent that might affect other priceless holdings in the Vatican Museums.

lo/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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