A nineteenth-century religious icon showing the Baptism of Christ, along with eleven other icons stolen in 2005 from a monastery in northwestern Greece, were returned from the United Kingdom last moth, the Culture Ministry announced.
The icons were stolen from the Monastery of the Dormition of the Visokos Virgin, located near the village of Kalouta, in the Zagori municipality of Epirus.
According to the culture ministry announcement, the 12 icons were returned after Greek and UK authorities collaborated for their return, with the assistance of the Greek embassy in London.
“The icon of the Baptism was located in June 2017, by an archaeologist working for the Directorate for the Verification and Protection of Cultural Goods, on sale in a London gallery. Following the immediate mobilisation and close cooperation of the services responsible, with the assistance of the embassy of Greece in London, the icon was withdrawn from the list of works for sale,” the ministry said.
The London Metropolitan Police had then ordered the gallery to retain the icon until the investigation was complete and it was verified that it was the same one stolen from the Epirus monastery, it added.
The key to its identification was the back view of the icon shown on the gallery website, which showed that it was part of a church templon or screen, which had been used for two other icons stolen from the same church.
One of the other two icons was located in another London gallery and returned in 2011 and the second was recovered in Greece.
According to the ministry, religious relics have been targeted by organised gangs in the last 25 years.
Two more icons from another monastery in the region were located on sale in a Germany auction house in 2020, and the process of their return is still pending, the ministry concluded.