The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC has returned a valuable 1,000-year-old Greek Orthodox Christian manuscript to a monastery in northern Greece.
Bulgarian soldiers had looted the manuscript from the monastery more than a century ago along with hundreds of other documents and artifacts.
Officials formally presented the 11th century gospel on Thursday at the Theotokos Eikosiphoinissa Monastery in a ceremony attended by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and representatives from the Museum of the Bible, the Associated Press reported.
According to the archdiocese, the manuscript is one of the world’s oldest handwritten gospels, and is believed to have been made in southern Italy.
The museum acquired the manuscript as a donation in 2014 after it was bought at an auction. Officials later identified it as one of the manuscripts stolen from the Eikosiphoinissa Monastery and informed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, of their desire to return it.
Elpidophoros praised the Museum of the Bible for returning the manuscript to its rightful owner, saying that “a historical injustice has been redressed.”
“We cannot express enough our gratitude for their extraordinary act of Christian love and responsibility,” the archbishop wrote in a Facebook post. “They have set an example for others to follow, and we pray that they do.”
The monastery of Panagia Eikosiphoinissa (meaning “twenty palm trees” in Greek) dates to the 8th century and is located outside the city of Drama. The monastery has a turbulent history including several massacres of monks, destruction of its buildings and theft of the extremely rare manuscripts.
In March 1917, as World War I was raging throughout Europe, Bulgarian militants raided the monastery and stole the entire contents of its library, which had been filled with holy texts that included the oldest complete version of the New Testament in existence.
The gospel was stolen with another 430 valuable manuscripts and hundreds of other religious artifacts, most of which remain missing.
The original monastery was burned in 1943 by Bulgarian occupation forces allied with Nazi Germany during World War II. It has since been rebuilt and now functions as a convent.
Featured image: Holy Book of Gospels, known as “Kosinitza Manuscript 220.” (Photo by Dimitrios Panagos via Archbishop Elpidophoros Facebook page)
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