November 21, 2010

"Indiana Jones" Search for Stolen Cypriot Icons Across Europe

November 20, 2010
London Daily News

The Church of Cyprus has increased its efforts to search and repatriate stolen icons from the Mediterranean island with international observers describing the campaign as something resembling an “Indiana Jones” pursuit.

The Church of Cyprus has escalated its efforts across Europe to repatriate stolen byzantine artefacts from the northern third of the island which has been illegally occupied by the Turkish army since invasion of July 1974. It has long been the case that the Turkish troops and settlers have been selling important icons or religious artefacts to the open market, prompting the Church of Cyprus to start a campaign to find and repatriate them. This strategic goal among others has been undertaken by the Representation of the Church of Cyprus to the European Institutions, based in Brussels.

Head of the campaign for the repatriation of the stolen artefacts is His Grace, Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis, a Theologian and Archaeologist who graduated from the Universities of Athens and Thessaloniki.

During a meeting in Brussels Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis said to the London Daily News:

"We ask from those who have in their possession ancient, important religious artefacts from the occupied Cyprus, and probably misled by dealers to buy them, to respect our religious heritage and offer them back to their legitimate owner, the Church of Cyprus".

With a team based in the centre of Brussels, Bishop Porfyrios is constantly travelling across the European Union to "hunt down" as he puts it, individuals who are profiting from selling stolen artefacts from Cyprus. In a recent case in Germany six Byzantine icons which dated back to the 18th and 19th century were returned to the Church of Cyprus. The six icons were in the possession of a family in Munich of Germany, which according to sources had been "concerned how the icons ended up in Germany". The family contacted the Embassy of Cyprus in Berlin and asked for an investigation of the case. The Church of Cyprus armed with experts verified the Cypriot origin of the icons. The icons were works of the School of Hagiography of the Monastery of Saint Heraklidios which flourished in Cyprus between the 18th and 19th century.

The six icons are:

1. Large icon of Saint John the Theologian (1762), a donation of the Metropolitan of Paphos Saint Panaretos, for a temple of a Church in the occupied Cyprus.

2. Small icon of Saint John the Theologian (18th century) from the iconostasis of the Monastery Panagia of Tohniou.

3. Small icon of Saint Heraklidios (18th century).

4. Small icon of Saints Anargyroi, Kosmas and Damianos (1810).

5. Small icon of Palm Sunday (18th century).

6. Small icon of the Baptism of Christ (1792).

The London Daily News contacted several leading auction houses in London with one representative stating that “we are aware that many icons linked to Cyprus are stolen items” as a result of the illegal Turkish invasion in 1974 and therefore are sold under "extreme caution" because many of these are also claimed by the authorities of Cyprus.

Photo credit: Icon of the Baptism of Christ (1792) Church of Cyprus