A 16th century church icon stolen from the Antifonitis church in the village of Kalograia in the Kyrenia district, which was discovered at an auction house in Switzerland in 2014 was repatriated this week and is in the Cyprus museum, the antiquities department said.
The icon was one of many removed by looters from the Antifonitis church just after the Turkish invasion in 1974.
The icon is a classical depiction of Christ. It was being auctioned at the “Schuler Auktionen” auction house in Zurich. Church officials stumbled upon the auction announcement online and immediately contacted the auction house.
They managed to put together a file proving the icon’s provenance and coordinated with all competent authorities including the the Swiss Embassy in Cyprus and managed to remove the icon from auction.
Cyprus and Switzerland signed a memorandum of understanding in 2013 for the repatriation of stolen artefacts and holy relics. This is not the first icon originating from the Antifonitis church that found it’s way back to the island. In 1998, another 16th century icon depicting the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child was also returned.
‘Christ Enthroned’ arrived back in Cyprus on Friday, according to the department of antiquities in an announcement on Saturday.
“The repatriation was made possible after long-term efforts, which have been intensified in recent years, giving a successful conclusion to one of the most well-known, but also complex, repatriation cases,” it said.
“The case of the destruction of the church of Antiphoniti by the Turkish occupying army and its collaborators and the sale of the frescoes, portable icons and fragmented woodcarvings, the fate of many of which is still unknown, proves once again the destructive consequences of the Turkish invasion of the cultural heritage of the country.”
The repatriation was made possible after the coordinated efforts of the department of antiquities, the Cyprus police and the Legal Service in close cooperation with the Church of Cyprus and the competent Swiss authorities.
It was officially handed over in Zurich on July 7 by the Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Zurich Bernhard Hecht and received by the director of the antiquities department Dr Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou and the head of the police unit that deals with trafficking in antiquities, Michalis Gavrielides.
The icons is in good condition, the announcement said, but it will be checked by the conservators so that it can be delivered to the Archbishop in the coming week.
The Church of Antiphoniti, which has been declared an ancient monument was founded in the 12th century and is the only one preserved in Cyprus in a very good condition. The icons and frescoes were added later and date from the 15th and 16th centuries.
“Unfortunately after the Turkish invasion, Turkish antiquarians desecrated the monument, largely removed the frescoes, icons and wood carvings and sold them illegally on the international market,” the antiquities department said.
Many of the murals in question were found in the possession of the well-known Turkish antiquarian Aydin Dikmen, it added, a number of which were gradually repatriated. From time to time some of the notable icons of the iconostasis were repatriated, with the most important repatriation in 1998 of the Virgin and Child.