Vatican Returns 3 Parthenon Fragments to Greece Setting an Example
The Vatican agreed this week to return three sculpture fragments from the Parthenon to Greece, the Greek Culture Ministry announced, hopefully paving the way for other countries and institutions to do the same.
Athens expects to receive the three Parthenon fragments which have been part of the Vatican Museums collection for two centuries during a special ceremony in the presence of Vatican envoys.
The agreement was signed in Rome on Tuesday during a private Vatican Museums ceremony by the head of the Vatican city-state, Cardinal Fernando Vergez, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni and Father Emmanuel Papamikroulis, envoy of Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II.
The set of fragments include the head of a horse from the west front of the temple, on which Athena and Poseidon were shown competing for dominion over Attica; a relief with the head of a boy identified as one of the figures from the frieze that went round the body of the temple; and a bearded male head, attributed to one of the metopes from the southern side of the building where there was a battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs.
“We are here, with mixed emotions, as the tragedy in Tempi and the death of so many young people does not allow us to be happy about today’s ceremony for the signing the donation protocol,” said Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni expressing her gratitude to Pope Francis.
The agreement, signed by Mendoni and Vatican Museums Director Barbara Jatta concerns the return of the 2,500-year-old fragments to Greece as a “donation”.
Mendoni went on to add that the action demonstrated “in the best possible way how culture can make a decisive contribution to dialogue, peace, and the reconciliation of communities”.
In turn, under a protocol between Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II and Director-General of the Acropolis Museum, Nikos Stampolidis, the three fragments will be returned directly to the Acropolis Museum.
The news is expected to put additional pressure on the British Museum in the long-standing dispute with Greece for the return of the 2,500 year-old Parthenon Marbles which are one of its central exhibits.
In January, the British Museum said that it was in “constructive discussions” with Athens for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece as part of a cultural exchange program however there was no official announcement in Athens with regard to such an agreement with London.
“I hope the Pope’s initiative is followed by others,” said Father Papamikroulis on Tuesday, adding that the Pope made it clear that the return of cultural property was feasible and realistic.
He went on to describe the action as “a historical event” that “heals, even partially, wounds and traumas from practices belonging to a distant past. Much still remains to be done”.