The Italian Almanac

ancient manuscript

Italian News - March 25

A 12th-century manuscript in the British Library was looted from a cathedral near Naples during the Second World War and must be returned, an independent panel ruled yesterday. The Spoliation Advisory Panel’s backing of a 27-year campaign by the city of Benevento to be reunited with a jewel of Italy’s heritage was dramatic because it also called for the Government to introduce a law to allow the restitution of looted treasures.

The panel, set up by the Government to resolve claims over art allegedly plundered during the Nazi era and now in public collections, concluded that Benevento had “made good their moral claim” for a “just and fair solution”. It said that the manuscript should be returned as soon as possible on loan while the law is changed to allow its permanent return.

The 290-folio illuminated missal had been kept at the chapter library at the Romanesque cathedral of Benevento for hundreds of years before its removal in September 1943. The panel, chaired by Sir David Hirst, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, concluded that the manuscript disappeared in “suspicious circumstances”.

All that is known is that it was moved to a seminary just outside the city after the devastating bombing of 1943, before the American 5th Army’s advance and before it was bought by a British officer in the Intelligence Corps in 1944. Douglas George Eric Dacre Ash, a British Army captain who died last year, had claimed to have bought it from a bookseller in Naples in 1944. Eventually it was bought by the British Museum Library in 1947.