HERITAGE: Looted Cyprus relic pulled from auction returns home

A looted reliquary from the church of Saint Mamas, in Turkish-held Morphou has returned home after being handed over in Dusseldorf, Germany to its rightful owner.

The casket with the relics of saints was bought recently by the Managing Directors of Hargesheimer auction house, Susanne and Frank Hargesheimer.

The art historians decided to buy it and return it to the Bishopric of Morphou after the artefact was withdrawn from an auction on April 12, despite the interest shown from several bidders.

This followed an email by Cypriot art historian and Byzantine art expert Maria Paphiti, who informed them of its origin and history.

The reliquary was handed over by Susanne Hargesheimer to Archimandrite Fotios Ioakeim during a ceremony held at the German auction house, in the presence of Paphiti and representatives of the Embassy of Cyprus in Germany and Cyprus Department of Antiquities.

Speaking to CNA after the ceremony, Archimandrite Fotios expressed his satisfaction over the fact that the reliquary returns at last to its rightful owner.

He said that the artefact will be preserved by experts and will be kept at the Bishopric, until the occupation of Cyprus is ended, and they can place it again at Saint Mamas church where it belongs.

After the casket is preserved, a mass will take place at Saint Afxidios church in Astromeritis village, in which the Bishop of Morphou will honour those who contributed to its repatriation.

Susanne Hargesheimer said stolen artefacts that have been sold abroad may never be recovered, and that it is important that such items can be identified and returned to their rightful owners.

She said the casket was withdrawn from the auction due to “the quick action of the internationally well-known specialist of Byzantine art Maria Paphiti, who contacted us during the auction to have the lot withdrawn, much to the disappointment of all the bidders.”

It was only her email that reached us during the auction that made us withdraw the piece from the sale, she said.

Hargesheimer said that she and her husband decided to buy the casket, compensate the consigner and donate the item to its owner.

I am so delighted to return this piece of art that is so important for the cultural identity of the people of Cyprus so that it can return home after its long journey.

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: The Financial Mirror