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It’s time to return the Elgin Marbles

20 March 2015


From the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe
Sir, - Last week, Andrew George led a cross-party group of MPs in support of an Early Day parliamentary motion calling upon the Government to engage in the "gracious act" of returning the Parthenon sculptures removed from Athens 210 year ago by Lord Elgin.

I believe that members of the Church of England should take a national lead in showing their support for this motion.

The sculptures were removed by Lord Elgin in questionable circumstances. It was, for a long time, maintained that Greece did not have proper facilities to look after the marbles and that they were safer in the British Museum. Greece has, however, recently constructed an excellent new Parthenon Museum, and this argument no longer applies.

The strength of feeling in Greece in relation to the sculptures is very high, as I was reminded on a recent visit to Athens. It would not be much of an exaggeration to make a comparison with how British people might feel if Elgin's near-contemporary Napoleon had beaten Wellington at Waterloo, struck a deal with the custodians of the Tower of London, and taken the crown jewels off to the Louvre for safekeeping. The Parthenon is the most important ancient building of Athens, and the sculptures are its crowning jewels.

At the present time, the people of Greece are suffering, with real poverty, dangerously high youth-unemployment, and huge debts. Our own chaplaincy in Athens is doing all it can to work with the Orthodox Church in bringing help to those in the greatest need. The return of the sculptures would be a tonic to national morale, and heal a gaping wound in Anglo-Greek relations.

It would be highly appropriate if members of the Church of England could be seen to be associated with such a "gracious act".

Robert Gibraltar in Europe
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