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Vatican Returns Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Vatican Parthenon Marbles
The relief with the head of a boy. Credit: Musei Vaticani

The Vatican and Greece are finalizing a deal for the return of three Parthenon marbles that have been in the collection of the Vatican Museums for two centuries.

The fragments are expected to arrive in Athens later this month, with a March 24 ceremony planned to receive them.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni headed a Greek delegation to the Vatican on Monday to sign the transfer agreements for the three fragments.

The fragments of the Parthenon frieze depict the head of a horse, the head of a bearded man and the head of a boy.

Vatican Parthenon Marbles
The male head is attributed to one of the metopes of the Parthenon. Credit: Musei Vaticani

The three fragments of Pentelic marble are remnants of a 160-meter-long (520-foot) frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom.

Vatican donation of the Parthenon Marbles

In December, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has decided to send them back to Greece.

The Vatican termed the gesture a “donation” from the pope to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, the Orthodox Christian archbishop of Athens and all Greece, “as a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth.”

The Vatican statement suggested the Holy See wanted to make clear that it was not a bilateral decision to return the marbles from the Vatican state to Greece, but rather a religiously inspired donation.

The Vatican thus becomes the latest Western state to return its fragments of the Parthenon Marbles, leaving the British Museum among the holdouts.

In a statement shortly afterward, the Acropolis Museum in Athens said that the artifacts will be displayed on its premises.

Deal puts pressure on British Museum

The Associated Press reports that the deal between the Vatican and Greece puts pressure on the British Museum to conclude a deal with Athens over the fate of its much bigger collection of Parthenon sculptures, which have been a centerpiece of the museum since 1816. Decades of appeals from Greece for their return have been refused.

Earlier this month, however, the chair of the British Museum said the UK and Greece were working on a deal that would see his institution’s Parthenon Marbles displayed in both London and Athens.

George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum said that recent talks between the Greek government and the museum over the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures had been “constructive”.

“I think there is a way forward where these sculptures … could be seen both in London and in Athens, and that will be a win-win for Greece and for us,” Osborne told the BBC.

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