Stolen in 1917, this 1,000-year-old manuscript was just returned to its rightful owners

Oct 1, 2022, 4:19 PM | Updated: Oct 6, 2022, 3:12 pm
The thousand-year-old manuscript has been returned to its home at the Kosinitza Monastery in Drama,...
The thousand-year-old manuscript has been returned to its home at the Kosinitza Monastery in Drama, Greece. (GOARCH/Dimitrios S. Panagos)
(GOARCH/Dimitrios S. Panagos)

(CNN) — A 1,000-year-old manuscript looted during World War I has been returned to the Greek monastery from where it was stolen more than a century ago.

The manuscript is one of the oldest handwritten gospels in the world, according to a news release from the Museum of the Bible, which acquired it in 2014.

The document was written in a Greek monastery in southern Italy during the late 10th to early 11th centuries, says the Museum of the Bible. But sometime between the 14th and 15th centuries, it moved to the Kosinitza Monastery, also known as the Theotokos Eikosiphoinissa Monastery, in northern Greece.

When the Bulgarian Army invaded Greece during World War I, soldiers looted the monastery, stealing over 400 precious manuscripts as well as other books, objects, and cash. Some of the manuscripts were sold in Europe — and eventually ended up in American museums.

The Eikosiphoinissa Manuscript 220 was sold by Christie’s in 2011, says the museum, and then purchased by the Green Collection of Oklahoma City, which donated it to the Museum of the Bible.

In 2015, the Greek Orthodox Church had asked several American institutions that held manuscripts from Kosinitza to voluntarily return them to the monastery. The museum started researching its Greek New Testament manuscripts in 2019, leading scholars to realize the document had been stolen from the Kosinitza Monastery. And in 2020 the museum reached out to Eastern Orthodox leaders to express its desire to return the manuscript.

The manuscript was finally returned to the monastery in a formal ceremony on Thursday, says a joint statement from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Museum of the Bible.

“When the Museum of the Bible discovered that this text was illegally and rapaciously taken from the Monastery, it moved quickly, responsibly and professionally to see to its restoration and repatriation,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who represented His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the return ceremony, according to the statement.

“We cannot express enough our gratitude to the Green Family and the Museum for their Christian and professional service,” he said. “You have set an example for others to follow, and we pray that they do.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox church, loaned three other manuscripts to the Museum of the Bible as a “gesture of gratitude for the gospel manuscript’s return,” says the statement.

George Tsougarakis, general counsel at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, told CNN that he hopes the return prompts other institutions to return manuscripts stolen during the Bulgarian invasion.

Repatriation is “recognition of the inequities and the injustice that these areas went through back then, which led to the removal of these priceless artifacts,” he said. “And it’s a way of, sort of making the world right again.”

He noted that copies of the manuscript can allow academics to continue to study it from afar. But for the monks who venerate the manuscript, the physical document represents a powerful connection to the monks who came before them and to the religious tradition itself.

“There is something to say about touch,” Tsougarakis said. The ability for the monks to say, “‘I touched the page that my predecessor touched’ — it means something, it’s a community.”

And the Museum of the Bible has set a compelling example for other institutions that have manuscripts stolen from Kosinitza, he added.

“We urge them to do the right thing,” he said. “There’s only one right answer here. And we hope that they follow suit.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


The Joseph Smith Memorial Building. (Intellectual Reserve, Inc.)...
Madison Swenson

Three Church structures in SLC to undergo renovations

The Beehive House, the Lion House, and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will be undergoing renovations beginning in 2023.
3 days ago
Exterior of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple. The temple’s architecture is inspired by the Spanish...
Madison Swenson

First temple in Puerto Rico opening to the public

The San Juan Puerto Rico Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opening its doors to the public beginning Dec. 1.
4 days ago
The Tokyo Japan Temple seen from the Arisugawanomiya Memorial Park in Tokyo on Sunday, July 3, 2022...
Madison Swenson

Locations of 6 international temples released

The locations of six new international temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been released.
4 days ago
(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)...
Madison Swenson

First Presidency of the Church releases 2022 Christmas message

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released a Christmas message.
7 days ago
Elder Rich, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is shown check-in ins...
Madison Swenson

Church opening six new missions in 2023

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday that they will be opening six new missions overseas in 2023.
9 days ago
(Jed Boal/KSL TV)...
Jed Boal

‘Light the World’ giving machines open at Salt Lake shopping center

The annual "Light the World" giving machines kicked off at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Stolen in 1917, this 1,000-year-old manuscript was just returned to its rightful owners