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Looted mosaic from Turkish occupied church returns home

November 18, 2018 at 4:31pm
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A mosaic depicting Apostle Mark that was looted from the Turkish occupied church of Panagia Kanakaria in the village of Lythragomi was brought back to Cyprus on Sunday.

The mosaic was handed over by a Dutch art investigator during a ceremony that took place in the Netherlands and was brought to Cyprus by a delegation of the Antiquities Department and the Church of Cyprus .

Minister of Transport, Communications and Works, Vasiliki Anastasiadou told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that the mosaic was brought home today, expressing her satisfaction over this development.

She noted that the return of the mosaic was made possible after coordinated efforts of the state and the Church of Cyprus.

She said that apart from the Church of Cyprus, the Department of Antiquities of the Transport, Communications and Works Ministry, the Police, the Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributed to this effort.

Anastasiadou stressed that the process for the return of the mosaic took place according to the relevant legislation of the Republic, adding that the mosaic will be restored by the Department of Antiquities.

Furthermore, she said that the delegation of the Antiquities Department that went to the Hague verified the authenticity of this art treasure.

Dutch art investigator Arthur Brand told the French News Agency (AFP) on Friday that he handed back the sixth century depiction of Saint Mark during a private ceremony at the Cypriot embassy in The Hague.

For Brand the handover was a high point in his life-long interest in the Byzantine saint — and the result of a nearly two-year chase across Europe, AFP noted.

“This is a very special piece that`s more than 1,600 years old. It`s one of the last and most beautiful examples of art from the early Byzantine era,” he noted.

According to AFP, after getting a tip from a prominent London art dealer, Brand travelled to Monaco in August. Through a series of intermediaries — including several in the underground world — Brand finally traced the missing mosaic to an apartment in the upscale city-state.

“It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago,” Brand told AFP.

“They were horrified when they found out that it was in fact a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria Church after the Turkish invasion,” Brand said.

The family agreed to return it “to the people of Cyprus” in return for a small fee to cover restoration and storage costs, he added.

A week ago, Brand — who was working with the Church of Cyprus — returned to Monaco to collect the treasure, said to be worth five to 10 million euros.

“The mosaics of Kanakaria are of immense importance in Christian art and world culture,” Maria Paphiti, a former department head at British auction house Christie’s told AFP.

The ensemble “is among a handful of artworks that escaped the menace of Byzantine iconoclasm” in the eighth and ninth century, Paphiti told AFP.

Twelve mosaic fragments have been returned so far, notably one depicting the Apostle Andrew — which Paphiti discovered among a collection of artworks in 2014.

In 1989, four fragments depicting the upper part of Christ, two apostles and an archangel were handed back after a high-profile case in Indianapolis.

Most of the mosaic fragments were recovered between 1983 and 2015, Paphiti said, but some pieces are still missing, including the lower part of Christ’s body.

“This is truly one of the last outstanding pieces to be returned,” Brand said to AFP. “It is incredible to think that this piece of art survived for so long. It`s part of the Cypriot peoples` soul,” he added.

The uncontrolled situation in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974 has fostered the development of a network of dealers in illicit antiquities whose aim was to sell out the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

With the encouragement and help of the Turkish army, the trade in illicit antiquities has brought great profit to those involved, and Cypriot treasures already adorn private collections in a number of countries including Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, and even as far as the US, Australia and Japan.

More than 500 churches situated in the areas under Turkish occupation since 1974 have been destroyed, plundered and looted or turned into stables, warehouses, restaurants and hotels.

The Cyprus government and the church have repeatedly protested to the UN, the World Council of Churches and many other international and religious organisations.

(Cyprus News Agency)

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