Looted church icons returned to Cyprus

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)A man use his mobile to take a photo of the 14th century icon of the Virgin Mary, or Panayia, the Merciful, one of the returned looted icons now housed at the Byzantine Museum in capital Nicosia, Cyprus

Cyprus officially received back the largest haul of looted church icons, frescoes and mosaics on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that the 173 items were stolen from Orthodox and Maronite Christian churches in the Turkish Cypriot northern part of Cyprus and have been returned after four decades.

Among the treasures are fragments of a 1,500-year-old mosaic depicting St Thomas and 1,100 year-old frescoes of unidentified saints.

The items were reportedly badly damaged when looters removed them and will undergo restoration at the Byzantine Museum in capital Nicosia, where they are being displayed.

Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said some items had been cut up by the looters to make them easier to transport.

They were discovered in 1997 by police during a raid on an apartment belonging to Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen in Munich, Germany, and are only now being returned to Cyprus after a long court battle to prove the Cyprus Church's ownership.

According to AP, the head of the island's Orthodox Christian Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, wants the icons to find permanent homes in places of worship in the north once a political solution has been found to the island's division.

"The Church of Cyprus is joyous that after 40 years, the largest number of stolen treasures is coming back home, to their homeland," said the Archbishop.