Benevento rejoices at news of looted missal’s return from the British Library

An investigation by The Art Newspaper led to the request for restitution of the 12th-century prayer book


The promised return of the Benevento missal has been greeted with “great joy”, according to Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri. When news reached the southern Italian city on Holy Thursday, 24 March, a meeting was immediately called in the cathedral’s library, at which the municipality’s leading figures were invited. Despite sadness about Pope Jean Paul II’s declining health, the announcement that the British Library would be returning the looted manuscript was greeted with “great emotional applause”.

In a letter to The Art Newspaper, Archbishop Sprovieri expressed his delight and astonishment at the decision of the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel. “To be honest, even though we made the restitution request according to our conscience and with absolute dedication, none of us really believed it would lead to anything.” This was because Benevento Cathedral had made a request for the return of the missal in 1978, which was rejected.

The archbishop said that the UK would now be regarded in a fresh light. “England is great in the esteem to which it upholds the law, contrary to that popular proverb ‘perfida Albion’ [perfidious Albion], which is now proved wrong.” Archbishop Sprovieri also acknowledged the key role played by The Art Newspaper, which led to the latest request.

On 23 March the Spoliation Advisory Panel recommended that the British Library should restitute the early 12th-century missal to Benevento (The Art Newspaper, No.157, April 2005, p.1). This will be the first time that a UK national institution has returned a work of art or cultural object looted during the Nazi period. A change in the law will be required, since the British Library is legally barred from deaccessioning the manuscript.

Immediate loan

Negotiations have already begun for the return of the Benevento Missal to Italy, since the Spoliation Advisory Panel has recommended that the manuscript should be sent back on loan “as soon as possible”. British Library chief executive Lynne Brindley accepts the principle of restitution, and is committed to “engage in constructive discussion with other parties on the terms and conditions of a loan to the Chapter Library”. Contacts between London and Benevento to discuss the arrangements were initially delayed slightly by the death of the Pope.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Benevento rejoices at news of missal’s return'