Pope Francis Orders the Return of the Vatican’s Collection of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

The Vatican is returning Parthenon Marble fragments to Greece, a move that will add to mounting pressure on the British Museum to return its own collection.

Pope Francis dressed in white, wearing glasses
The repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles has been hotly contested. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

The Vatican is returning fragments of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, which date from the 5th century BCE and once adorned the Acropolis of Athens.

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The fragments, depicting the head of a horse, boy and man, have been in the Vatican’s collection since the 19th century. In 2008, one of the pieces was loaned to Greece for a year. Now, all three will be given to Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the the Greek Orthodox Church, as a “donation” recognizing “his desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth,” according to a statement from Vatican officials provided to the Guardian.

This move is likely to add pressure on the British Museum, which has refused to repatriate its own collection of the Parthenon sculptures, the so-called Elgin Marbles that were removed from Greece in 1801. In a statement expressing gratitude for Pope Francis’ return of the fragments, Greek’s Ministry of Culture and Sports said the Vatican’s decision is a sign of support for Greece’s three-year long attempt to reunify the British Museum’s collection with fragments held in the Acropolis Museum.

The Parthenon Sculpture fragments exhibited at the British Museum, in a row with a white wall in the background
The British Museum’s Parthenon sculptures of Ancient Greece. (Photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Greek official held talks with the British Museum to negotiate the repatriation of the Parthenon fragments. In response to reports surrounding the meeting, the museum said that while it’s seeking a new and positive partnership with Greece, the objects likely won’t be returned anytime soon. “We operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,” said the British Museum in a statement.

Pope Francis Orders the Return of the Vatican’s Collection of Parthenon Marbles to Greece