6th-century St. Andrew the First-Called mosaic stolen in 1970s returns to Cyprus

Nicosia, Cyprus, April 26, 2018

Photo: Church of Cyprus Photo: Church of Cyprus

A rare sacred treasure has found its way back to the Orthodox island nation of Cyprus after four decades.

A mosaic of Apostle St. Andrew the First-Called, dated to the 6th century, was stolen from a looted church in Cyprus’ breakaway north in the 1970s, but now has been returned, bringing spiritual joy to the Cypriot faithful.

His Eminence Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, who made the announcement about the icon, stated that the artistry that went into the icon and its rarity make it a symbol of Cyprus’ “stolen heritage,” reports the Romanian Orthodox Church’s Basilica News Agency.

20,000 icons, vessles, and mosaics, dating to the 12th-20th centuries, with older exceptions such as the St. Andrew mosaic, were looted from 575 Cypriot churches after Cyprus split into ethnic Greek and Turkish sides in 1974. Ancient churches are also beginning to crumble, due to the lack of restorative work since 1974.

6th century mosaic depicting St Andrew the Apostle. Photo: Church of Cyprus 6th century mosaic depicting St Andrew the Apostle. Photo: Church of Cyprus

The mosaic, depicting a bearded St. Andrew, is one of few to have survived the 8th and 9th century waves of Iconoclasm that swept through the Church, blaspheming and destroying holy icons everywhere.

The icon was one of several stolen from the Church of Panagia Kanakaria in Lythrangomi. Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen was arrested 25 years later for selling the St. Andrew icon and others stolen from the same and other parishes.

Most of the Kankaria Church mosaics have been returned, with the exception of one of St. Luke the Evangelist.

On Monday, Abp. Chrysostomos honored the three people responsible for the icon’s return to Cyprus and the Cypriot Church, presenting them with the Church’s highest award, the Medal of St. Paul. President Nikos Anastasiades also attended the ceremony.

The mosaic was first located by London-based Cypriot art dealer Maria Paphiti in 2014 when another dealer asked her to verify the icon’s origin. Paphiti told the dealer the mosaic belongs to the Cypriot Church, and he promised to return it if the expenses would be covered. Paphiti then contacted Cypriot businessmen Roys Poyiadjis and Andreas Pittas, who agreed to cover the $61,200 cost of repatriating the icon.

173 stolen icons and mosaics were returned to Cyprus in 2013—the largest ever haul returned. The icons were then restored and put on display at the Cypriot Church headquarters’ Byzantine Museum.

Back in 2011, pop singer Boy George returned an ancient icon of Christ that he had bought in 1985, after a bishop spotted the icon in the singer’s house in a documentary about him. Boy George said at the time, “I’m happy it is going back to its original, rightful home. I’ve always been a friend of Cyprus and have looked after the icon for 26 years.”

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