Vatican Gives Parthenon Sculptures to Greek Orthodox Church

Reunification ceremony of three fragments of the Parthenon offered by Pope Francis to the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos ii at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, on March 24.

Vatican Gives Parthenon Sculptures to Greek Orthodox Church

Greece held a “reunification ceremony” in Athens for three sculpture fragments from the Parthenon on March 24. The three fragments were part of the Vatican Museums’ collection for centuries. But Pope Francis announced his intention to send them back to Greece last December. The Catholic Church finalized the deal earlier this month.

For centuries, collectors have taken bits and pieces of sculpture from the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple in the heart of Athens. These sculptures are now located in museums around Europe. The Greek government has lobbied museums for decades to return their collections. The Vatican Museums responded, and the sculptures are now displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Interesting intermediary: The Catholic Church didn’t give the sculptures directly to the Greek government. Instead, it was specified as a “donation” to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church in return gave them to the Greek state. The leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos ii, was at the ceremony. Also present was Brian Farrell, the Vatican’s secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. Officials from both churches stated how the donation helped build unity.

The gifting of the fragments of the Parthenon, which have been held in the Vatican Museums for more than two centuries, shows itself as an ecclesial, cultural and social gesture of friendship and solidarity with the people of Greece.
—Brian Farrell

Ieronymos said the donation was “the tangible proof of the fruits produced by the fraternal relations” between Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Ieronymos credited Pope Francis by name and said that old wounds are healed with this reunion of the Parthenon’s sculptures.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have for centuries been bitter enemies. But the gifted sculptures are only the latest event in a trend of reconciliation.

What the Bible says: A prophecy in Isaiah 47 speaks of a woman, biblical symbol for a church (see 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:22-32). This particular woman sits on a throne (Isaiah 47:1), ruling over kingdoms and exerting great authority over people (verses 5-6). The Trumpet has watched the Catholic Church as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Verse 8 specifies this church would not “know the loss of children,” meaning rebellious offshoot groups would reconcile with Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church is among the biggest of these “children.” Friday’s ceremony shows their reconciliation is closer than ever.

Learn more: Read “Returning to the Fold” in our free booklet He Was Right.