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Lambeth Palace to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria

16 April 2021

The sculptures were a gift to a former Archbishop, the late Lord Runcie, in 1982


Bronze statues that were presented to Archbishop Runcie in 1982 by the Kingdom of Benin, in West Africa

Bronze statues that were presented to Archbishop Runcie in 1982 by the Kingdom of Benin, in West Africa

LAMBETH PALACE has agreed to return to Nigeria two bronze busts that were a gift to a former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Lord Runcie, 40 years ago.

The statues were presented to Archbishop Runcie while in office in 1982 by the Kingdom of Benin in West Africa — now southern Nigeria — and are among a large collection of gifts held at the Palace. Although the artefacts were, therefore, not among those looted by British forces during a military campaign in Benin in 1897, there have been widespread calls for African treasures to be repatriated.

Lambeth Palace was recently contacted by the Digital Benin project at the MARKK, in Hamburg (former Museum of Ethnology), about the items. A spokeswoman for the Palace explained: “The bronze busts we received as gifts from the Benin Kingdom in 1982 are likely to be contemporary from that time and are not historic objects that were forcibly removed. . .

“One bronze was from Ambrose F. Alli, on behalf of the government and people of Bendel State of Nigeria, and the other is from the University of Nigeria, Nusska. The two bronze busts were not taken from Benin in 1897.

“As a gesture of good faith, we have offered for the two busts to be included in the Digital Benin project, and eventually returned to our friends in Edo, Nigeria, where they may remain.”

Calls have since been made for the Church of England to conduct a full inventory of artefacts received over the years. A review is already under way of church memorials and monuments that are deemed offensive in relation to slavery, colonialism, or racism (News, 19 June 2020). This began in the wake of Black Lives Matters protests last year (News, 5 June 2020).

The director of cathedrals and church buildings for the Archbishops’ Council, Becky Clark, said at the time: “Although these decisions will be taken locally, dioceses and national bodies like the Church Buildings Council have a part to play in facilitating those conversations, and we have been offering advice and support to churches as they confront the complex challenges of the past and the reality of the present.”

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