Page last updated at 18:45 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 19:45 UK

US man returns ancient Jerusalem stone

Marble stone recently returned to Jerusalem, 2 June 2009
The stone was removed from an archaeological site in 1997

An American man has returned a 21kg (46lb) chunk of medieval pillar taken from Jerusalem's Old City 12 years ago.

Israeli authorities had received a letter from a priest asking forgiveness for the man, after he confessed to taking away the stone.

He said a tour guide had given him the weighty piece of marble, and that he had not realised until later that it had probably been stolen.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority said it was not planning legal action.

The authority received an e-mail from a priest in New York State several weeks ago.

"The fellow confessed to me that 12 years ago he took a stone from Jerusalem and his conscience has bothered him ever since," the priest wrote.

"I wish to return the stone to Israel and hope that you will forgive the man for his transgression."

'Prayer stone'

The stone arrived with a note in which the man said a tour guide had given it to him during a visit to Israel.

"Only later did I realise that he probably took the stone from the excavation without permission," he wrote.

He said he thought of the stone as something he would use to "pray for Jerusalem".

"For the past 12 years since then, rather than remind me of the prayer for Jerusalem, I am reminded of the mistake I made when I removed the stone from its proper place in Israel."

"I am asking for your forgiveness."

Haim Shchupak of the IAA's anti-theft unit said the return of antiquities was rare.

"It's nice that these people's consciences bothered them," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"I'm glad that there are good people out there."

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