A 16th century icon stolen from the Antifonitis church in Kalograia in the Kyrenia district was officially handed over to Archbishop Chrysostmos on Tuesday after being repatriated last week.
The icon was discovered at an auction house in Switzerland in 2014, and was most likely looted from the Antifonitis church just after the Turkish invasion in 1974.
“I want to thank everyone involved in the repatriation of the historical artifact,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said as he handed the icon over to the Church.
“In particular the antiquities department, the legal service, the police and especially the Archbishop for his efforts in bringing the icon back to Cyprus.”
He said efforts to repatriate stolen items are ongoing but only reach the public eye if they have a positive result.
Karousos added that future government plans involve the establishment of a dedicated team within the antiquities department to repatriate more historical artefacts to the island.
“The police will also play an important role, as they will be able to carry more on-site specific inspections at historical landmarks to find missing artefacts.”
Commenting on the successful operation, director of the antiquities department Dr Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou said “the looting of historical artefacts is very much part of the organised crime scene.
“We are working hard alongside the police to prevent it from happening in the future. We still have a long way to go but we will surely see good results gradually,” she concluded.
The icon is a classical depiction of Christ. It was being auctioned at the Schuler Auktionen auction house in Zurich when 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 Swiss Embassy in Cyprus and managed to remove the icon from auction.
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.
The frescoes, icons and wood-carved decorations in the Antifonitis church were largely removed by looters after the invasion and sold on the international market.