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Duke Libraries Returns Byzantine Manuscript to Original Home in Greece

The 11th Century document belongs to a monastery in Greece.

Duke University has returned an 11th century Byzantine manuscript to the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos in Greece.

The university purchased the manuscript in 2011 from a well-known antiquarian bookseller.  But Greek officials approached Duke earlier this year with evidence that the manuscript had previously been stolen from the Greek monastery, in the 1960s.

Duke officials did not know about the theft when they bought the manuscript.

“As a cultural institution, it’s important to make sure that culture and heritage is maintained and preserved,” said Andy Armacost, curator of collections and head of the collection development department with Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. “We had no indication when we purchased the manuscript that it had been stolen, and we’re happy to make things right.”

Called a menologion, the manuscript is a hand-written series of biographies of saints celebrated by the Greek Orthodox Church in September. (It is believed to be the first volume of a larger set; September is the first month of the year under the Greek Orthodox calendar.)

Written on parchment and stretching to more than 500 pages, it has been one of more than 100 Medieval Greek liturgical manuscripts in Duke’s Kenneth Clark Collection.

Much of the manuscript’s 21st century history was publicly known when Duke bought it three years ago. Noted Norwegian collector Martin Schoyen owned it previously.  Prior to that, in 1988, it was sold publicly by Sotheby’s, the auction house.

Duke officials gave the manuscript today (Jan. 5) to U.S. government officials, who plan to turn it over to Greek authorities. A digital version of the manuscript remains in Duke's online collection here.