Swiss Police officers, acting on a request from their counterparts in Cyprus, raided the premises of Russian art dealer Alexander Khochinskiy in Zurich last month. During the raid, as expected, they discovered two large despotic icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary from the Chapel of Saint James (14th century) in the occupied village of Trikomo.
The two icons were painted by the Cretan iconographer Meletiou in 1620 and had adorned the small iconostasis in the Chapel of Saint James since then until the 1974 Turkish invasion. The whereabouts of the icons had remained unknown until recently when the Church of Cyprus learned that they had resurfaced in Switzerland. It passed on the information to the Cyprus police to enable the force to take all the necessary steps to effect their return.
The first icon (110cm x 128cm) depicts the enthroned Christ as King of Kings and High Priest and John the Baptist turning towards Christ. Christ is dressed in the high priest’s vestments and mitre. He is giving a blessing with his raised right hand while holding an open gospel in his left hand. John the Baptist, turning towards Christ, has his right hand raised, pointing to the Son of God, while in his left hand he holds a staff and an open scroll. At the base of the icon, under John the Baptist’s feet, is the painter’s signature and the date in red capitals: SIGNED MELETIOU OF CRETE MDCXX AD M(onth) of August.
The icon of the Virgin Mary (114cm x 134cm) is a variation on the Hodegetria type. The enthroned Holy Virgin is depicted face on, looking forward, holding Christ on her left arm. Her right hand is low, in front of her bosom, close to Christ. Christ holds a closed scroll in his left hand while giving a blessing with his raised right hand. His child’s face is turned towards the Virgin. To the right and left of the Virgin’s head are small-scale depictions, from the waist upwards, of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Standing to the left of the Virgin Mary and looking towards her is John the Baptist. In his hands he holds an open Gospel, on the pages of which are the first two lines of his Gospel: IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD AND…
A presentation on these icons was made in 1976 by the Byzantologist and former Director of the Antiquities Department, Athanasios Papageorgiou, at the International Congress of Cretan Studies in Heracleon, Crete.
In 2004 Switzerland ratified the UNESCO (1971) and the Hague Conventions, which came into force in 2005, prohibiting the sale and purchase or stolen cultural treasures. This was a highly significant development in the process of returning and repatriating these post-Byzantine icons to their rightful owner, the Church of Cyprus.
It is noted with regret that the authorities of the pseudo-state have recently turned the Chapel of Saint James in occupied Trikomo into a tourist agency.
Office for Monuments and Art, Church of Cyprus