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Looted icon of St. George returns to Cyprus from Switzerland

August 23, 2018 at 8:09am
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An 1829 Greek Orthodox icon of St. George, looted from the village of Karavas following the 1974 Turkish invasion, is set to be repatriated, after it was confiscated by the Swiss authorities last September.

The icon was confiscated only hours before going to auction in Koller, an auction house in Zurich. The legal process was completed in less than a year, following close cooperation between the Church of Cyprus, Cypriot and Swiss authorities.

As CNA learns, the icon is now in Cypriot hands, in Switzerland, and will be repatriated by a Church of Cyprus representative, as was done in similar cases in the past.

The icon was housed in the church of St. George, in Karavas, in the northern shores of Cyprus until the 1974 Turkish invasion. The present owner was not aware that the icon was stolen and agreed to return it to the Cypriot authorities after he learned about its provenance.

Legal procedures to return the icon started after a complaint lodged by the Church of Cyprus. The Church cooperated with the Ministry of Justice, Police, the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Italy and the Swiss authorities.

As CNA learns from the Embassy of Cyprus in Rome, Bishop Porphyrios of Neapolis sent a letter in August 2017, informing the Chief of the Cyprus Police about the planned auction on September 22. The Cyprus Police then informed Interpol, asking for the icon to be withdrawn.

This was made possible only hours before the icon went to auction, with the Swiss authorities asking later for more details from their Cypriot counterparts. A detailed report was submitted to attest the icon’s Cypriot provenance and the fact that it is a protected artefact under the Antiquities Law.

Subsequently, the office of the Swiss prosecutor took over to investigate the case and to identify the icon’s provenance beyond any doubt. According to the Swiss probe, the present owner was not aware that the icon was stolen and accepted to return it to Cypriot authorities. There are no details about the nationality of the owner or the way the owner came into possession of the icon.

The icon was returned earlier this August and is now in Cypriot hands, in Switzerland, awaiting its repatriation.

The icon portrays St. George killing the dragon and is surrounded by 16 smaller images depicting scenes from the Saint’s miracles and his martyrdom.

The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the subsequent occupation of the island, has heavily affected Cyprus’ cultural heritage.

According to the Department of Antiquities, 197 ancient monuments are registered in the occupied part of the island, based on the Cyprus Antiquities Law, while the procedure was left incomplete for hundreds of other monuments and archaeological sites due to the Turkish invasion.

Museums in occupied Cyprus have been looted, while ecclesiastical icons, frescoes and mosaics have been removed from churches and in many cases have been traced in Europe’s illegal antiquities trade markets and in auctions around the world.