TWO 13th Century frescoes stolen from a church in the north of the island after the 1974 Turkish invasion will be returning to Cyprus from the United States next year, the Church of Cyprus said.
“It is with great joy and deep emotion that the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus announces the return of the frescoes of the Saint Themonianos Church in Lysi … by the Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas,” a statement said.
The frescoes had been acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Church of Cyprus in 1984 and had been on loan under an agreement that ends in February 2012.
According to Josef Helfenstein, director of the Menil Collection, Dominique de Menil was struck by their beauty and immediately understood their historical significance.
“However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus,” Helfenstein said in a letter posted on the Menil Collection website.
The frescoes were stolen by Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen who shipped them to Germany. Dikmen claimed they came from an abandoned church in southern Turkey, and prepared to sell them on the black-market.
After their acquisition, the foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 fragments when they were stolen.
In gratitude, the Church of Cyprus lent the frescoes to the foundation on a long-term basis.
According to the New York Times, the foundation paid $520,000 for the frescoes and an additional $530,000 for their restoration and conservation.
They had been on display in a consecrated chapel in Houston that opened to the public in 1997.
One of the murals, that used to adorn Saint Themonianos’ dome, depicts Christ Pantocrator surrounded by angels while the other – an apse — shows the Virgin Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experience the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion,” Helfenstein said. “Moreover, the frescoes’ installation in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel—a consecrated space that simultaneously honours their sacred origins and the tragic history of their looting from their true home church in Lysi—includes a profound, sacred dimension and is therefore different from traditional museum presentations of antiquities.”
Read the rest of the article in the Cyprus Mail online newspaper.