By Courtney Mares
Pope Francis has decided to give the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Athens three fragments of Parthenon sculptures that have been kept in the Vatican Museums for centuries.
The Vatican announced on Dec. 16 that the pope wants to gift the artifacts to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece, “as a concrete sign of a sincere desire to continue on the ecumenical journey of witness to the truth.”
The Parthenon is a temple built atop the Acropolis in Athens to honor the Greek goddess Athena in the mid-fifth century B.C.
According to the Vatican Museums website, three marble fragments from the Parthenon’s decorative sculptures arrived in the Vatican’s collection in the 19th century. The fragments include part of the head of a horse from a sculpture of Athena’s chariot, as well as the heads of sculptures of two men.
As the archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II is the primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece. He most recently met with Pope Francis during the pope’s apostolic trip to Greece in December 2021.
In the meeting with the Greek Orthodox leader in Athens last year, Pope Francis apologized for past actions and decisions by the Catholic Church “that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power [and] gravely weakened our communion.”
“History makes its weight felt, and here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics,” the pope said in Athens, where he also made a brief stop to see the Parthenon at night.
This isn’t the first time that Pope Francis has made an ecumenical gesture with a centuries-old gift. In 2019, the pope gave Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I a relic of St. Peter as “a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another.”