On the eve of celebrations of Greece’s National Day of Independence, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain has written to the UK Prime Minister asking for the return of the Elgin collection of Parthenon Sculptures currently held in the British Museum.
Archbishop Nikitas, who was formerly the metropolitan bishop of the Dardanelles, has proposed what one commentator has described as a "bold and progressive solution" for the case of the Parthenon Sculptures.
The request also coincides with the staging of the formal ceremony in the Acropolis Museum in Athens for the reunification of three Parthenon sculptural fragments from the Vatican as a result of Pope Francis’ noble gesture.
Just recently Rishi Sunak, straight out of the British conservative establishment’s playbook, predictably declared that he has no plans to change the British Museum Act which, as it currently stands, prevents the British Museum from deaccessioning any objects in its collection. Sunak went further and claimed that the UK had “cared for” the sculptures in the British Museum for generations and that they were “shared with the world” at Bloomsbury.
In a letter couched in reason and eloquence, Archbishop Nikitas spoke of the sculptural artefacts that once adorned the Parthenon before they were removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and that reflect artistic genius of Athens in its golden age. The Greek Orthodox hierarch beseeched the British Prime Minister to find a “courageous and visionary solution which could generate enormous goodwill among Greeks, Britons and everybody else who prizes the Hellenic heritage”.
Referring to the scholarly research of the distinguished British historian William St Clair, the Archbishop noted that Elgin's agents had cajoled, threatened and bribed the Ottoman authorities in Athens to permit an aggressive stripping of the Parthenon and other monuments on the Acropolis, concluding that this was hardly an episode of which anybody can be proud.
It is surely not impossible - with goodwill - to find legal solutions that would facilitate the restoration to wholeness of this unique frieze
Archbishop Nikitas also pointed out that the British Museum's global standing would be enhanced, not diminished, if it were to act boldly and work actively for the reunification of the sculptures, noting that legislation was introduced to permit the return of Nazi spoliated artworks. It is surely therefore not impossible - with goodwill - to find legal solutions that would facilitate the restoration to wholeness of this unique frieze.
In conclusion, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop, who has previously also met with the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, proffered that the return and reunification of the sculptures would usher in a heightened British-Greek cultural collaboration that would be of mutual benefit to both countries.
When the Parthenon fragments from the Vatican Museum were handed to Greek officials earlier this month I wrote at the time that perhaps divine intervention was also needed for the British Museum to finally see the light.
This dignified intervention by the revered head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain is both timely and welcome.
George Vardas is the Arts and Culture Editor and is also the co-Vice President of the Australian Parthenon Association and co-founder of the Acropolis Research Group