A 1,000-year-old manuscript looted during World War I has been returned to the Greek monastery where it was stolen more than a century ago.
The artifact is one of the oldest manuscript gospels in the world, according to a statement from the Museum of the Bible, which acquired it in 2014.
The document was written in a Greek monastery in southern Italy during the late 10th and early 11th centuries, says the Museum of the Bible. But sometime between the 14th and 15th centuries, it moved to the Kosinitza Monastery, also known as Theotokos Eikosiphoinissa Monastery, in northern Greece.
When the Bulgarian army invaded Greece during World War I, soldiers ransacked the monastery, stealing over 400 precious manuscripts, as well as other books, objects, and money. Some of the manuscripts were sold in Europe—and ended up in American museums.
The Eikosiphoinissa Manuscript 220 was sold by Christie’s in 2011, the museum says, and later purchased by the Green Collection of Oklahoma City, which donated it to the Museum of the Bible.
In 2015, the Greek Orthodox Church asked several American institutions that held Kosinitza manuscripts to voluntarily return them to the monastery. The museum began researching its Greek New Testament manuscripts in 2019, leading scholars to realize that the document had been stolen from the Kosinitza Monastery. And in 2020, the museum contacted Eastern Orthodox leaders to express their desire to return the manuscript.
The manuscript was finally returned to the monastery in a formal ceremony on Thursday, says a joint statement by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Museum of the Bible.
“When the Museum of the Bible discovered that this text was illegally and voraciously removed from the Monastery, it acted quickly, responsibly and professionally to see to its restoration and repatriation,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who represented His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the return ceremony, according to the statement.
“We cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the Green Family and the Museum for their Christian and professional service,” he said. “You set an example for others to follow, and we pray that they will.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, lent three other manuscripts to the Museum of the Bible as a “gesture of gratitude for the return of the gospel manuscript,” the statement reads.
George Tsougarakis, General Counsel for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, told CNN who hopes the return will prompt other institutions to return manuscripts stolen during the Bulgarian invasion.
Repatriation is “the recognition of the inequalities and injustice that these areas suffered at that time, which led to the removal of these priceless artifacts,” he said. “And it’s a way to make the world right again.”
He noted that copies of the manuscript may allow scholars to continue to study it from afar. But for the monks who venerate the manuscript, the physical document represents a powerful connection to the monks who preceded them and to the religious tradition itself.
“There’s something to say about touch,” Tsougarakis said. The ability of monks to say, “‘I touched the page my predecessor touched’ — it means something, it’s a community.”
And the Museum of the Bible has set a compelling example for other institutions that have manuscripts stolen from Kosinitza, he added.
“We urge them to do the right thing,” he said. “There is only one right answer here. And we hope they follow suit.”
Source: CNN Brasil
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