American Museum returns gospel manuscript looted from Greek Orthodox monastery


The Museum of the Bible in Washington, has reportedly returned a handwritten gospel manuscript to the Greek Orthodox Church on Tuesday afternoon writes The New York Times.

According to the news report,  the manuscript in question was looted from a Greek monastery during World War I.

'The museum said that it transferred the artifact, which its founders acquired at a Christie’s auction in 2011, to an Eastern Orthodox Church official in a private ceremony in New York. The manuscript is to be repatriated next month to the Kosinitza Monastery in northern Greece, where it had been used in liturgical services for hundreds of years before it was stolen by Bulgarian forces in 1917.

'The return was in line with the Museum of the Bible’s policy in recent years of investigating the provenance of its entire collection after early acquisitions by its founders, the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, were found to include thousands of items looted from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The company paid $3 million in 2017 to settle claims with the U.S. government over not exercising due diligence in a chaotic, multimillion-dollar international antiquities buying spree beginning in 2009.

'The Greek Orthodox Church has said that several other American institutions wound up with artifacts looted from the same monastery.'

“Certainly the marketplace has its challenges,” said Jeffrey Kloha, the Museum of the Bible’s chief curatorial officer, who was brought in after the problematic acquisitions. “Things have been moving in the market for some time, and in some cases decades, that have origins that are not legal.”

The manuscript, some of its pages darkened by the smoke from candlelit prayers and others smudged over centuries by monks turning the pages, was among a library of over 400 manuscripts carted off by mules by Bulgarian forces who stormed the monastery in 1917.