The Vatican Museums will return the fragments of the Parthenon of Athens

The three pieces belong to the sculptural decoration of the main temple of the Athenian acropolis, erected in the 5th century BC and attributed to Phidias.

 The Pope has decided to return the marble fragments of the Parthenon in Athens, one horse head and two human heads , kept in the Vatican Museums since the 19th century, the Holy See announced today in a statement.

The decision of the Argentine pontiff follows his “sincere desire to continue the ecumenical path” (a movement that seeks the unity of the Christian branches) with the Greek Orthodox Church , for which the “donation” will go in favor of the Archbishop of Athens and head of the Orthodox Church in Greece, Jerome II.

The Vatican Museums have three fragments of Pentelic marble -a horse head and two human ones- from the 19th century, coming from the sculptural decoration of the Athenian Parthenon, built in the 5th century BC and looted . along the history.

“The Holy Father Francis, as a concrete sign of his sincere desire to continue the ecumenical path and witness to the Truth, decided to donate to His Beatitude, Jerome II, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, the three fragments of the Parthenon, carefully guarded for centuries in the Vatican Museums and exposed to millions of visitors from all over the world,” reads the note.

The Vatican in 2007, at the time of Benedict XVI, denied the return of these three vestiges , which reached its funds two centuries ago after a series of sales operations, but one was lent to the Hellenic authorities for an exhibition. n in 2015.

The three pieces belong to the sculptural decoration of the main temple of the Athenian acropolis, erected in the 5th century BC, the golden age of Hellenic culture, by the will of Pericles, and its authorship is attributed to the hand of the master Phidias .

The horse’s head comes from the western pediment of the building , which represented the mythological dispute between the goddess of wisdom Athena and Poseidon of the oceans for dominance of the region. Attic Greek.

The animal, in fact, was part of the representation of the chariot of the warrior goddess and protector of the city.

As for the other two marbles, they represent the head of one of the children in charge of making offerings in the temple and that of a bearded man who was part of the representation of the myth of Centauromachy, recounted in the southern metopes of the Parthenon.

The Vatican’s return of these pieces follows Francis’ will to forge good relations with the Greek Orthodox Church, with which Rome always had many disagreements in the past (among others, the Orthodox blame the Vatican and the Crusaders for the ca day of Constantinople in 1453) And it occurs at a time of debate on the decolonization of European museums.

For example, the British Museum in London has owned since the beginning of the 19th century what is known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ , a huge collection of decorative pieces from the Athenian temple, as well as a large part of its frieze and its pediments.

Athens has been demanding the pieces for years and expressly built a new Acropolis Museum in 2009 to demonstrate that it has a suitable place to house this archaeological treasure. Currently, he is negotiating the repatriation of the marbles from London.

Likewise, Italy announced last January the return to Athens of a marble fragment belonging to a part of the western frieze of the Parthenon, kept for more than two centuries in a museum in Palermo (Sicily).