Art very important for people and their history German auctioneer, who returns looted casket to Cyprus, tells CNA

The Managing Director of a German auction house who recently bought a casket with the relics of saints originally from St Mamas church in Morphou, Cyprus, and will return it on Tuesday to its rightful owner, the Metropolis of Morphou, has stressed in statements to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that art is very important for the people and their history, their culture and their identity.

The reliquary aroused international interest and attracted numerous bidders, but due to the intervention of Cypriot art historian, Maria Paphiti, it was withdrawn shortly before it was about to be auctioned, on 12 April, in fact during the auction process. Ten bidders were interested in it from all over the world, Greece, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Russia, Susanne, Hargesheimer told CNA.

She noted that the casket was part of an icon collection in North Germany. The collector died and so his sister decided to sell the collection, she noted. Hargesheimer said that Maria Paphiti wrote us an email during the running auction. A colleague of mine showed it to me because I was the auctioneer and I decided to withdraw it from the sale � my colleagues informed all the bidders who were really disappointed.

Asked why she decided to withdraw the reliquary from the auction, Hargesheimer noted that Maria Paphiti wrote to her that the casket was well known in Cyprus and that there is also a description of it from 1912. “And because it is such a unique reliquary I was convinced that it was the right object. And because we dont want to deal with stolen works of art we decided to give it back. For us art is not only something to deal with and to earn money, but art is very important for the people and their history, their culture and their identity. I’m very sorry that there were stolen so many artefacts after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Invited to say why she and her spouse Frank, also Managing Director of the auction house decided to buy the artefact, Hargesheimer said that the consigner was not really interested in art or icons. “They are three sisters, who wanted to sell it. Therefore the easiest way was for us to buy it, otherwise I would have to talk to the three sisters, explain to them, and they might not want to return it back to the rightful owner”.

She went on to say that we have made a contract with the Archimandrite Fotios Ioakeim as representantive of the Metropolis of Morfou. In the settlement agreement is stated that we donate the casket back to the city, the rightful owner of the reliquary.

On her part, Maria Paphiti told CNA that the Metropolis of Morphou had notified Interpol in Germany about the casket via the Police of Cyprus, however the Chancellery rejected the request for its withdrawal from the auction since there is no visual documentation of the reliquary in the church. The Cypriot Ambassador in Germany Andreas Hadjichrysanthou also made an effort for its withdrawal, upon instructions by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, but the Chancellery once again rejected the request, she added.

Noting that it was at the request of the Metropolis of Morphou that she intervened, Paphiti said that she decided to write an email to Hargesheimer informing her that the casket belonged to the church of St. Mamas in Morphou, and was looted from the church after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.

Hargesheimer agreed to withdraw it from the auction and on 14 April she informed Paphitis that she and her husband decided to buy it and donate it to the Metropolis of Morphou. Therefore the casket will return to Cyprus with no cost for the state and the Church, she added.

The official public handover of the reliquary to the representative of Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, Archimandrite Fotios Ioakeim, will take place at the premises of Hargesheimer auction house in Dusseldorf, in the presence of Byzantine art expert Maria Paphiti, and representatives of the embassy of Cyprus in Germany and the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus.

The casket has the form of a leather bound book. The lid opens to reveal in the centre St Mamas riding a lion, surrounded by four saints. The box is believed to contain relics of the portrayed figures, as well as of other saints. The relics are fastened on a metal plaque, which is engraved with the date 1835.

Source: Cyprus News Agency