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March 17, 2011

Stolen Religious Icons Traced To London

Thanasis Tsinganas
March 15, 2011

Icons reported stolen in the last five years from monasteries and churches in remote parts of northern Greece were traced via the Internet by local authorities in Epirus to a central London gallery.

Authorities were alerted last week following a telephone call from a woman claiming she had seen a famous icon of the Virgin from a church in Kalota posted for sale on the website of a well-known Notting Hill gallery. The authorities contacted the Eighth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, who helped them identify another five of the tens of looted Byzantine icons that had been posted for sale at prices ranging from around 2,000 to over 6,000 euros.

Officers of the Greek police’s antiquities theft department made the issue known to Interpol and Scotland Yard and the gallery then went on remove the over 30 disputed icons from its website, including the one of the Virgin that had been identified.

Speaking to Kathimerini, Epirus Governor Alexandros Kachrimanis said that “the information technology service of the Epirus Prefecture had saved a record of all the Byzantine icons that were up for sale and the investigation continues into whether among these there are other items that were stolen from our region.”

Identifying the icons was achieved largely thanks to an electronic database of all the treasures stolen from unguarded monasteries and churches in the area that was compiled by the former Ioannina prefectural authorities in 2009, who reached out to authorities and citizens to provide it with photographic evidence of the items.

The online list of a total of 150 stolen relics also helped lead police to an antiques store in the central Athenian neighborhood of Monastiraki, where they found an icon taken from an Ioannina church.

Greek authorities have said that the recent example of the London gallery confirms their belief that an international smuggling ring is behind the thefts, and that they probably act on commission.

Authorities are also investigating allegations that stolen items have made their way to Berlin and they have asked Interpol to help them crack the ring.

Read also: Greece Want British Gallery To Return 'Stolen Icons'