Three fragments of the Parthenon Marbles were returned to Acropolis Museum in Athens on Friday afternoon.
The pieces of marble sculpture, depicting a horses head and two male heads had been kept in the Vatican Museum for more than two centuries.
Following his apostolic journey to Cyprus and Greece in December 2021, Pope Francis told the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Athens, His Beatitude Ieronymos II, that he wanted to return the artefacts.
His Beatitude Ieronymos II presided over Friday's ceremony that was attended by a Vatican delegation with Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity; Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawłowski, Apostolic Nuncio to Greece; Mgr Andrea Palmieri, Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity; and Professor Barbara Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museums.
In his address, His Beatitude Ieronymos II, expressed his great joy and gratitude for the reunification of the three fragments of the Parthenon from the Vatican Museums with the Parthenon architectural sculptures at the Acropolis Museum, "their natural place." He said this initiative of Pope Francis in donating the fragments has "historic importance, with multiple positive repercussions on several levels."
First, His Beatitude noted, it shows the "tangible proof of the fruits produced by the fraternal relations that exist among us Christians, guided by truth, love, mutual respect and understanding." It shows our world today, marked by injustice, that solutions to our problems are possible when there is goodwill and a sincere desire to resolve them. Second, he recalled how "truth is restored" and wounds from the past are healed with this reunification of inseparable parts of this special monument of the world's cultural heritage. In conclusion, he expressed his wish that the gesture of Pope Francis might be imitated by others. He thanked all those who contributed to making this celebration possible.
Bishop Brian Farrell, said that the gifting of the fragments marks "an ecclesial, cultural and social gesture of friendship and solidarity with the people of Greece." He recalled the origin of Pope Francis' desire to make this gesture and how it affirms "ever more strongly the friendship and spiritual closeness between our Churches." He conveyed the Pope's warmest greetings and prayerful good wishes to His Beatitude and the whole body of the Church of Greece.
He added that "people of goodwill can see in this event the expression of a shared hope that our diverse cultures, and art itself, will always be a privileged means of dialogue and encounter among peoples. In that exchange, we enrich each other, in the wonderful diversity of our histories, our achievements and the universal aspiration to peace and fraternity."
In conclusion, he expressed hopes that "from the encounter between peoples and their cultures - of which the homecoming of the Parthenon fragments is one eloquent sign - will spring the understanding and solidarity that leads to peace."
The Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni said: "This is a gesture with a strong religious, but also political symbolism, which reflects the deep moral conviction that the mangled and mutilated monument itself demands the return of its architectural sculptural members, in order to regain its single and indivisible physical, aesthetic and semantic entity."
Last year another marble fragment from the Parthenon temple, depicting a foot of the ancient Greek goddess Artemis, was returned to Athens from a museum in Palermo, Sicily.