War loot advisers will rule on missal

The Times 1 April 2004
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

THE British Library may have to surrender a 12th-century manuscript which an Italian church claims was looted during the Second World War.

The fate of the manuscript is about to be decided by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, set up by the Government to help to resolve claims over art and antiques allegedly plundered during the Nazi era and now in national collections.

The 290-folio missal, originally from the cathedral of Benevento, near Naples, was bought by the British Library at Sotheby’s in 1947. A British army captain said that he had purchased it from a secondhand bookseller in Naples.

Benevento first claimed the manuscript in 1978 but its request was dismissed by the library, citing a legal loophole that “under English law, your chapter library unfortunately lost their title to the manuscript at the end of six years after the loss of the object”.

The intervention of the spoliation panel offers new hope for the Italians. The library, which says the manuscript was purchased in good faith, confirmed that it had presented its case to the panel.

The missal’s wartime story dates to September 1943. German troops had taken control of Benevento, and American air raids destroyed most of the Romanesque cathedral as well as damaging the nearby chapter library.

The priests moved surviving manuscripts and books to the Pontificio Seminario Regionale Pio XI. A month later the Germans left and the Allied forces commandeered the seminario for their troops. Benevento believes that the missal disappeared at this time.
It was first shown to the British Library in 1946 by a Captain D.G. Ash, from London, who served with the Royal Artillery. He said that he had bought it in 1944 from a bookseller.
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