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The Vatican keeps its promise! Greece takes possession of the 2,500-year-old sculptures of the Parthenon
The Vatican has returned to Greece three fragments of the Parthenon sculptures held by the Vatican for centuries. The decision to return the 2,500-year-old marbles was announced by Pope Francis last year, who described the decision as a gesture of friendship. One of the fragments represents the head of a boy, another the head of a horse, and the third the head of a bearded man. They were unveiled at a ceremony at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, an exhibition space purpose-built to house the Parthenon Marbles.
Greek officials stressed that the return of the fragments was a step towards the further return of the Parthenon sculptures, referring mainly to the much larger collection held at the British Museum that Greece has been trying to recover for decades. The two countries have been at loggerheads over sculptures removed from the fifth-century BC temple by Lord Elgin, then Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who then sold them to the British government. The marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, were exhibited in the British Museum where they remain. Their return to Greece is one of the most high-profile cases of return in the art world.
The Minister of Culture of Greece, Lina Mendoni, described the decision as heroic, adding that:
"Initiatives like these show the path we can follow... so that the unity of the Parthenon can be restored. In an initial effort to stay out of the controversy, the Vatican has been careful to describe the return as a 'donation' to the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Ieronymos II, and not a transfer from state to state."
The offer was immediately accepted by Ieronymos II who said that the fragments would go to the Acropolis Museum. At the ceremony in Athens, he described Pope Francis' gesture as one of historical significance. He also expressed a desire for others to emulate him.
The British Museum is not allowed by law to permanently return the artworks to Greece, but reports over the past year have suggested that progress has been made in finding a solution. In January, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported that a deal had been drawn up between the museum's chairman, former chancellor George Osborne, to allow their return as part of an exchange deal. The growing support in public opinion in Britain is also seen as an optimistic sign in Greece. Addressing the repatriation ceremony as head of the Vatican delegation, Bishop Brian Farrell said:
"The gesture has a special significance in the ever stronger affirmation of friendship and spiritual closeness between our churches."