Vatican Return of Parthenon Fragments Puts Pressure on British Museum

December 22, 2022

ATHENS – A decision by Pope Francis to return to Greece three fragments taken from the Parthenon centuries ago is seen as squeezing the British Museum further to also send back the stolen Parthenon Marbles.’

The Vatican Museums have had the sculptures for over 200 years, but a campaign by the Greek government to have the pieces of its sovereign building returned has worked – at least there – said Euronews.

Pope Francis has termed the return a “donation” to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, the Orthodox Christian archbishop of Athens and all Greece, and that it was “a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth,” but the Vatican tried to steer away from making it political.

The Vatican Museums have had the three 2,500-year-old sculptures since 1816 as the museum’s centrepiece. The sculptures ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon Temple on Acropolis in Athens the site noted.

Evangelos Kyriakidis, director of The Heritage Management Organisation told Euronews: “It’s sovereignty. Having a Greek national symbol in a museum called the British Museum is totally wrong. It’s like if the Crown Jewels were in Greece.”

But the report also noted that the heat has been raised on the British Museum which has offered only to loan Greece the marbles on condition the government stipulates they belong to the London museum and not Greece.

Despite supposed “secret talks” held between Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Museum Chairman George Osbourne, there’s been no reports of progress since.

It’s not clear where the fragments will be shown although the Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 with a top floor dedicated to reuniting of the marbles stolen by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, 200 years ago.

The decision by the Vatican helps Greek efforts for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum “and their reunification with those on display in the Acropolis Museum,” a Greek ministry statement said.

The Vatican statement suggested the Holy See wanted to make clear that its donation was not a bilateral state-to-state return, but rather a religiously inspired donation from a Pope to a primate, the report added.

That was seen as trying to avoid a precedent could affect other priceless holdings in the Vatican Museums, with indigenous groups and former colonies of European countries wanting their stolen treasures back.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said: “We have no plans to change the law, which prevents removing objects from the British Museum’s collection apart from in certain circumstances.”

“Our position on this hasn’t changed. Decisions relating to the care and management of the collections are a matter for the museum and its trustees. The Parthenon sculptures are legally owned by the trustees and operationally independent of the government.”


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