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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Greek police recover stolen icon
The icon of the Virgin Mary
Many miracles have been attributed to the stolen icon
Greek police have recovered a priceless 700-year-old icon stolen last month in a daring raid on a cliffside monastery.

A Romanian man, arrested in Heraklion, the capital of Crete, following a police tip-off, confessed to the theft.

He revealed that the icon of the Virgin Mary was hidden in a house south-east of the monastery in Elona.

The celebrated icon, which some say has miraculous powers, symbolised Greek freedom during a 19th Century campaign to expel the Turkish Ottoman empire.

The icon was found secreted in a hole in a thick stone wall in the house where it had been stored.

According to the Public Order Ministry, the painting had not been damaged despite being cut from its wooden frame during the robbery on 19 August.

Celebration planned

Police say the breakthrough in the investigation came when they received a tip-off.

The suspect arrested in Crete was found with jewellery that had been placed on the icon as votive offerings, as well as photographs and film of the Elona monastery which investigators believe were used to help plan the robbery.

Map of Greece
The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says the deeply religious people who worship at the Elona monastery attribute the discovery to the power of prayer.

The Panagia, as the icon is known, is said to protect the inhabitants of the region and to cure the sick.

Dimitris Tsigounis, the mayor of Leonidio, the nearest town, said he was very happy that the icon had been found and promised a ceremony at the monastery next weekend to honour its safe return.

Originally the police believed the icon had been stolen to order for a rich collector, or on behalf of someone who was sick and hoped to benefit from its reputed powers.

But, according to local legend, the miracles only work if the icon is safe in the small stone chapel high in the mountains of the Peloponnese, our correspondent says.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The site of the cliffside raid



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Greece
24 May 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Greece
24 May 06 |  Country profiles



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