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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 17:17 GMT
Looted manuscript to be returned
Beneventan Missal
The rare manuscript was transferred to the British Library
A 12th century manuscript owned by the British Library must be returned to Italy because it was looted during WWII, an independent panel has ruled.

The British Library accepted the Beneventan Missal should be returned on loan as soon as possible.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel called for a law to allow the restitution of objects looted in the Nazi era.

It said the manuscript was taken from a cathedral and acquired by the British Museum in good faith.

The manuscript is a missal and calendar written in Beneventan script known as Benevento VI 29 or Egerton 3511.

It was taken from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral City of Benevento, between 1943 and 1944.

Book shop

The panel tried to identify how the 290-page document came to leave the monastery before resurfacing in one of the city's second-hand bookshops.

It is important that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War Nazi era are resolved
Estelle Morris

It was bought by British Army Captain DG Ash. The British Museum Library then bought it at Sotheby's in 1947 for 441.

It was transferred with the British Museum Library's collections to the British Library on its foundation in 1973.

Arts Minister Estelle Morris described the panel's decision that it should now be returned to Italy as "the most appropriate way to proceed".

"It is important that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War Nazi era are resolved," she said.

'Wrongfully separated'

"I know that the British public would be unhappy to know that a cultural institution in this country contained a work which had been identified as being wrongfully separated from its rightful owners during this period."

She also said she will also be considering the panel's recommendation for legislation to permit restitution of such objects.

The manuscript will now be transferred to the Chapter Library in Benevento.

The Chapter discovered that the manuscript was in the British Library in London in 1961 and made formal claims in 1978 and 2000.

British Library Chief Executive Lynne Brindley said the library had exercised careful stewardship of the manuscript for nearly 60 years and it has been studied by "distinguished scholars".

She said they would be seeking to ensure the loan met "rigorous conditions".

The Spoliation Advisory Panel was set up by the then Arts Minister Alan Howarth in 2000, to trace the ownership of art allegedly seized from Jewish owners before and during the Holocaust.

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