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London returns six stolen icons to Greece

14 April 2011 / 14:04:54  GRReporter
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Six icons that were stolen from churches in the central Greece areas Epirus and Pelion in the last three years returned to Greece. The icons are in very good condition; they date back to the 18th and the19th century and were found in London. They will remain in the Byzantine Museum in the capital in the coming days, and then will go to the churches to which they belong. Another six icons stolen from Greece were found in a gallery in Amsterdam yesterday, which are expected to be returned soon, said the Minister of Culture Pavlos Geroulanos during the presentation of the returned icons in the Byzantine Museum in Athens.

All of the found icons were stolen from churches in Epirus, which, together with those in the mountain area of ​​Thessaly in central Greece, are most often the subject of raids by thieves from the network for illegal trading of antiquities and cultural goods, said the archaeologist from the department of documentation and protection of cultural goods Nikos Panoutsopous. The reason is that these churches are located in inaccessible and remote places, and there are no priests in some cases.

Nearly 400 icons were stolen from about ten churches in Epirus over the past five years, told the Head of the District of Epirus Alekos Kahrimanis, who has contributed with his actions for the finding of the icons. "15 icons were stolen only at Christmas in 2009," added he. Once the churches in the area have become the subject of thefts in the last years, he has taken the initiative to collect the images of the icons and upload them on the Internet. The first information they got was that one of the icons was sold on Monastiraki Street in Athens. The regional government of Epirus went to buy the icon, notifying the relevant authorities. Thereafter, the ball of information about the stolen icons slowly began to unravel. After an anonymous source informed that he had seen one of the icons to be sold in a gallery in London, the service for trade of antiquities to the Greek police and the Ministry of Culture were alerted and they quickly submitted the information to Interpol and Scotland Yard.

More than 50 icons were stolen from Koukouli, more than 100 icons were stolen from only three churches in Samarina and now is the first time that something has been done, told the Head of the District of Epirus. It is important that the people involved in the trade of stolen cultural goods will be frightened and will be more careful in the future, added Nikos Panoutsopous and said that the priority of the Ministry of Culture is to make a photo archive.

"It is a great joy for the museum to accept these works. Now we have the six icons that have been found in London and come from Tsagarada in Pelion and Zagora in Epirus. The icons are of great importance for the region from which they come. About a year ago the museum of Byzantine art was honoured to accept the found mural paintings from the Monastery of Euboea that were forcibly taken from there and were subsequently found in Switzerland. We will open an exhibition on the 9th of May, which will present the mural paintings before being returned to the monastery, so that to make clear to the public what it means stolen works of important cultural heritage to be found and returned," said the director of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens Eugenia Halkia.

"The finding of the icons is an enormous success in the fight against the forces that try to steal our cultural heritage. The success is due to the collective effort made by everyone who worked for the finding of the icons – the services at the Ministry of Culture, the police, and the Embassy of Greece in London. Another important factor for the success is the secrecy of the operation. Sometimes it is necessary to keep the operations strictly confidential because it is essential to success. We are trying to arrest the people involved in the thefts and hope to achieve our goals quickly," said the Minister of Culture Pavlos Geroulanos.

Tags: NewsIconsByzantine and Christian MuseumTheftChurchesStolen iconsIllegal trade
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