Italian monastery demands return of 'looted' manuscript

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The Independent Online

An 800-year-old illuminated manuscript is at the centre of a dispute between Britain and Italy as the Queen prepares to visit the Vatican today.

An 800-year-old illuminated manuscript is at the centre of a dispute between Britain and Italy as the Queen prepares to visit the Vatican today.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, has received a demand from Archbishop Seraphinus Sprovieri, abbot of St Peter's monastery in Benevento, near Naples, for the Benevento Missal, which, it is claimed, was looted in the Second World War.

A British Army captain, James Ash, bought it in Naples in 1944 and in 1947 it was sold, through Sotheby's and the antiquarian book dealers Quaritch, to the British Library for £400. How it left the monastery is unknown.

The Italian government backs the archbishop's demand. A spokesman for the embassy in London said: "Of course we would like it back. We have been in contact with Archbishop Sprovieri and the matter is with the Foreign Minister in Rome."

The British Library said: "It would be for the spoliation panel [set up this year to oversee restitution claims from the Second World War] to undertake an investigation. We will co-operate fully, as we're confident the manuscript was correctly acquired...

"The library purchased it in good faith. We've got copies of the letters sent between ourselves and Captain Ash about its provenance and, at the time, it seems we were satisfied that it hadn't been looted."

Richard Linenthal of Quaritch said: "A missal is a kind of church service book... As well as being the town, benevento also came to mean a kind of handwriting specific to southern Italy during the Middle Ages."

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