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Priceless icons return home January 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied, Religion & Faith.

Six priceless icons belonging to the Church of Cyprus were returned to the island yesterday after being stolen from the occupied Morphou area after the 1974 Turkish military invasion.

During a special ceremony at the Archbishopric in Nicosia, Archbishop Chrysostomos thanked all those who had worked for the return of the icons, and particularly Byzantologist Athanassios Papageorgiou who had the foresight to photograph the icons in Morphou before the Turkish invasion.

The icons were located last year at the Sotheby’s auction house after Church investigators spotted them up for sale in a catalogue. They were handed over to Bishop Neophytou of Morphou at a ceremony in New York on January 10.

“Europe and America are sensitive to human rights and it is a human right for these icons to be returned to their own homeland,” said the Archbishop. Bishop Neophytou said a “piece of the collective memory” of the Church of Cyprus had been returned.

“Often we realise with pain in our souls and with bitterness and indignation that this icons are held in the dungeons of Attila or in the galleries of Europe and America and other countries,” he said. “But we expect the art world to be sensitive to our people and our culture.”

Biship Neophyotu also thanked everyone who had been involved in rescuing the icons, including the Foreign Ministry and the Church lawyers.

In his address to the gathering, Foreign Minister George Lillikas said expressed the government’s satisfaction with the way the case had turned out, and promised it would always work in full cooperation with the Church in this area. Lillikas said he also hope that foreign governments would show the necessary sensitivity and respect, not just to Cyprus but to international rules for the protection of cultural heritage, when such cases arose in the future.

Five of the six returned icons were from the church in occupied Assinou in the Morphou district and the sixth is from KaloPanayiotis. Among others they include depictions of the Virgin of Assinou, the Apostles Peter and Paul and Ayios (Saint)Andronikos.

The fact the icons were well-documented in the past made the Church’s case easier to prove. The icons had been in the possession of the Pankow Foundation created by construction magnate Charles Pankow. Pankow was known as a connoisseur of the arts, having established a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Russian artefacts. He amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian and Greek icons in the United States. After his death the administrators gathered a lot of his Byzantine pieces for auction and published a catalogue. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the administrators of the Foundation, but only for the reimbursement of expenses and fees.

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