Tuesday 8 November 2011

The Church and the Getty fight over the Armenian Zey'tun Gospels

The Getty is in hot water again.

In 1994 it paid US$950,000 for eight illuminated pages which once formed part of the Zeyt'un Gospels, an Armenian manuscript dating to 1256. Since June 2010, the Armenian Orthodox Church has been suing for their return.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Getty's application to have the Church's claim dismissed was denied last week by the Los Angeles Superior Court. The museum had argued that the six year limitation period allowed under California law for the church to bring its claim had long since expired but that, said the judge, was unclear.

The beginning of the Gospel of St Mark
It's no surprise that the Getty has come in for criticism that it should not be relying on legal arguments that it holds good title to the Gospel pages, but instead should consider the matter ethically and academically.

According to the church's suit the pages were separated from the rest of the volume and vanished in mysterious circumstances in 1916, during the Armenian genocide in the then Ottoman Empire. 78 years later an American Armenian family in Massachusetts sold them to the Getty. The church contends that the pages were stolen in 1916 and that the Getty had not adequately investigated their provenance before purchasing them in 1994.

Now the Church wants the pages reunited with the rest of the volume in the city of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, so the Gospels will be whole again and can be studied by scholars in its original state. It also points out that the Gospels were revered in Armenia and were believed to grant physical protection; as significant cultural patrimony for the twenty-year-old republic, the Church believes Armenia is where the Gospel pages should be.

But not all Armenians agree. 'I personally think that these 8 pages do much greater good to Armenians if they remain at the Getty,' one Armenian blogger commented last week. 'So many people can be exposed to them at the Getty who would never otherwise see an Armenian manuscript. This includes many Armenians in LA.' Los Angeles has the second largest community of Armenians outside the Republic of Armenia.

A four-month mediation period has been ordered, with the case to resume on 2 March 2012 if the matter is still unresolved.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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