VATICAN CITY ( Associated Press) – Pope Francis will return to Greece three pieces of Parthenon marble that have been in the Vatican Museums for centuries, the Vatican announced Friday.
The Holy See pointed to the “donation” by the pontiff to Jerome II, Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Athens and all of Greece, “as a concrete symbol of his sincere desire to continue on the universal path of truth.”
Thus the Vatican became the last Western state to return its pieces of the Parthenon marbles, leaving the British Museum behind.
But the statement suggests an intention by the Holy See to clarify that this is not a bilateral decision to return pieces of the Vatican State to Greece, but a religiously motivated donation. The text may have been written so as not to set a precedent affecting other priceless pieces in the Vatican Museums.
The sculptures are the remains of a 160-metre (520-foot) long frieze that encircled the outer wall of the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, on the Acropolis in Athens. Most were lost to bombardment in the 17th century, and about half of the surviving works were removed in the early 19th century by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin.
The British Museum recently vowed not to destroy its collection after it emerged that the museum’s chairman held secret talks with the Greek prime minister to return the statues, also known as the Elgin Marbles.
The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC and is considered a masterpiece of classical architecture. The frieze represented a procession in honor of Athena. Some smaller pieces, and other sculptures from the temple, are in other European museums.