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Cyprus recovers looted 18th century church doors from Japan

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The leader of Cyprus Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II stands next to a pair of ornate, gilded doors that guard the altar of a church, at the Archbishopric in the capital Nicosia, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 . The 18th century doors that were looted from the church of Saint Anastasios in the breakaway north of the ethnically divided island nation were repatriated from a Japanese art college after a long legal battle.(AP Photo/Philippos Christou)

NICOSIA – Cyprus' Orthodox Church formally took charge Thursday of two ornately decorated 18th century doors stolen from a church in the ethnically divided island's breakaway north and reclaimed from a Japanese art college after a long legal battle.

Communications and Works Minister Yiannis Karousos said the wooden doors — painted with religious scenes, carved and gilded — were discovered at the Kanazawa Art College more than 20 years ago and their return followed “long and intensive efforts.”

No information was provided on how the college acquired them.

The artifacts originally stood in the central gateway of the iconostasis — the ornately decorated screen that separates the sanctuary from the rest of an Orthodox church — of Saint Anastasios in Peristeronopigi village.

Built in 1775, the church sits atop a cave where the saint’s grave is preserved.

The doors were stolen after the island’s ethnic split in 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared independence in the north, that’s recognized only by Turkey.

In what Karousos called “cultural genocide,” hundreds of frescoes, mosaics and other religious works of art were looted from churches in the north after the invasion.

Since 1974, Cypriot government and church authorities have fought long legal battles in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to reclaim them.

Karousos said the doors’ repatriation sends the message to antiquities smugglers and “the international ring of crooks that however many years go by, (Cyprus) will hunt them down, because cultural genocide cannot be tolerated anywhere in the world.”