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Five rare Byzantine fresco-icons stolen in 1978 return to Greece

19 Φεβρουαρίου 2010

Five rare Byzantine fresco-icons stolen in 1978 return to Greece

Five rare Byzantine hagiography frescoes stolen in 1978 from the Palaiopanagia Church in Steni, Evia, returned to Greece from Basle, Switzerland at dawn Thursday.

The priceless fresco-icons, dating from the , stolen by Greek antiquities smugglers from the church in August 1978 and illegally sent out of the country were traced by the Greek authorities (Athens Security Police Antiquities Smuggling unit) in 2006 to a well-known Italian antiquities dealer, at a gallery he ran jointly with his German wife in Basle.

The Greek judicial authorities launched legal procedures for the return of the precious icons, on behalf of the Greek state, which lasted more than two years, instituting charges against the Italian antiquities dealer and all others involved, and sought the judicial assistance of the Swiss authorities for confiscation of the stolen icons. The Basle prosecutor’s office in December 2009 issued a final judgement ordering the unconditional return of the frescoes to Greece.

The frescoes depict Saints Ermolaos, Nikitas, Makarios of Egypt and Nestor, and are unique examples of the school of painting prevalent in the 13th and 16th centuries on mainland Greece.

Palaiopanagia is a 12th century cross-shape roofed Byzantine church renowned for its exceptional art hagiographies that are distinguished for their precision of proportions and colors.

The five stolen frescoes are a point of reference in international and Greek studies, outstanding among which is a 1971 study co-authored by the present Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos titled “Medieval Monuments of Evia”, which has been awarded by the Academy of Athens.

The study, in fact, was a key factor in definitively identifying the frescoes and positively establishing before the Swiss authorities that the five icons are protected Greek cultural monuments.