Vatican to Return Fragments of the Parthenon Marbles

Pope Francis has approved the return of three fragments of the Parthenon’s decorative sculptures, held in the Vatican Museums since the 19th century.

Following the successful reunification of the Fagan fragment earlier this year, Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis, General Director of the Acropolis Museum, has announced the imminent return of three fragments of the Parthenon frieze, held in the collection of the Vatican Museums since the 19th century.

According to the statement, Greece’s Ministry of Culture and the Acropolis Museum have made “oral and written arrangements” with the Holy See and the Vatican Museums regarding their return. “We salute today’s decision by Pope Francis,” concludes Stampolidis.


In an earlier statement by the Vatican, Pope Francis will donate the pieces to Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece “as a concrete sign of the sincere desire to continue on the ecumenical journey of bearing witness to the truth.”

Archbishop Ieronymos, who holds degrees in archaeology, Byzantine studies and theology from the University of Athens, once served as a research assistant and lector at the Athens Archaeological Society.

“The three fragments from the Parthenon have, for centuries, been carefully kept in the pontifical collections and in the Vatican Museums and exhibited to millions of visitors from all over the world,” the Vatican statement said.

The fragments, which come from the remnants of the Parthenon’s 160m-long frieze that ran around the outer walls of the cella, depict the head of a horse, the head of a bearded man, and the head of a boy. All came into the possession of the Vatican in the 19th century, according to the Vatican Museums’ website.

The Vatican has previously loaned the fragment of the boy’s head in late 2008, following a request for its return by the late Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. It was displayed for one year in the Acropolis Museum.


“All the artifacts in the museum belong to the Pope, only he can make a decision about them,” said Giandomenico Spinola, head of the Vatican Museums’ archaeological collections, to Reuters at the time of the loan.

Today’s statement by the Vatican makes clear that the return of the three fragments is a religiously inspired donation, worded in such a way as to not create a precedent for other artifacts in the collections of the Vatican Museums.

Of the 50 percent of the original sculptures that survive, about half are in the British Museum and half in Athens. Fragments remain in the collections of the Louvre in Paris, the National Archaeological Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and in Munich, Vienna, and Würzburg.

The news comes amid a report earlier this month that senior Greek officials, including prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have been holding “behind-the-scenes meetings” with British Museum chair, George Osborne, about the fate of the Parthenon sculptures on display in London. As Greece heads to a general election next year, the return of the sculptures remains a top priority for the government.

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