Rare Byzantine manuscripts, which were stolen during World War I, have become the focus of a new campaign pushing for the return of the historically and culturally significant artefacts to Greece.

Kick-started by the the Greek Orthodox Church, the religious manuscripts had been housed in the Monastery of Kosinitza, also known as Panagia Ikosifinissa Monastery, located on the north-eastern slopes of Mount Paggaio in northern Greece before they were stolen in 1917 by Bulgarian guerrillas.

It has since been discovered that the manuscripts ended up divided around the world.

One of the stolen Greek manuscripts of the complete New Testament (Codex 1424) that dates back to the 9th century was returned in November 2016 to the Greek Orthodox Holy Metropolis of Drama by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

However other manuscripts remain scattered, with some known to be located at sites across the United States including Duke University, Princeton University and Morgan Library.

To assist the church in building momentum for the campaign, the Hellenic American Leadership Council has come on board. The Council created and ran a petition, and sent it to the institutions in possession of the manuscript material, calling on them to return the artefacts back to Greece.

The petition reads as follows:

“I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, and I have learned that your institution is in possession of Holy manuscripts that were stolen during World War I from the Kosinitza Monastery in Drama, Greece. These manuscripts are an important part of our faith and history and were wrongfully taken from the Monastery.

“I urge you to return these manuscripts as soon as possible. There is certainly precedent for such action: other institutions have returned stolen art and artefacts, including the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago which returned a manuscript stolen at the same time and from the same location as the ones that are in your collection.
“Please, right this wrong and return these manuscripts to their rightful owner.
“Thank you.”

A response from the institutions has yet to be received.