Lebanon returns stolen icons to Greece

Paintings seized during auction before they could be shipped to Germany

A picture taken on January 18, 2021 shows two 18th-century religious icons depicting Jesus and Mary that were stolen in Greece and were seized by Lebanese authorities during an auction in the capital Beirut. Lebanon handed back two 18th-century religious icons of Jesus and Mary to Greece today after they were seized during an auction on its soil, a judicial source said. The icons, which dated from before the 18th century and could have each fetched from 5,000 to 15,000 euros ($7,000-21,000), had been pilfered from unguarded monasteries and churches in the sparsely-populated region of Epirus in northwestern Greece. / AFP / -

Two stolen 18th-century religious icons were returned to Greece from Lebanon after they were seized at an auction, a judicial source said.

Greece issued an international alert after the paintings of Jesus and Mary were stolen from an exhibition in Athens in 2016.

Lebanon has launched an investigation.

“The person who bought the paintings at the auction in Lebanon was questioned,” the source said.

They said the buyer was about to ship them to Germany “to sell them on at an international auction there”.

The paintings were handed to the Greek ambassador in Beirut.

Icons are Christian religious paintings, often of saints, and are viewed as sacred.

Greece has retrieved several other religious icons worth thousands of dollars in recent years.

In 2011, Greek officials blocked the sale of a dozen religious icons by two art galleries in Britain and the Netherlands after finding they had been stolen years before.

The icons, from before the 18th century, could have each fetched between $7,000 and $21,000.

They were stolen from unguarded monasteries and churches in the sparsely populated Epirus region of north-west Greece.

In 2008, Britain returned to Greece a 14th-century icon stolen from a Greek Orthodox monastery 30 years previously, and found in the hands of a London collector.

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