NEW YORK, NY - Today, at a ceremony hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute in New York City, the Monuments Men and Women Foundation announced the restitution of a papal bull issued by Pope Pius IX in 1862 and turned over custody of this document to Italian officials from the Carabinieri. This papal bull, an official decree issued by the Vatican, was signed by Pope Pius IX in 1862. It established the Catholic Church of Santo Stefano in Scascoli, just south of the city of Bologna, a church that is still in existence today.
“We are thrilled to return this papal bull,” said Anna Bottinelli, president of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation, “especially on this day, the 79th anniversary of the historic “D-Day” landings in Normandy, a major turning point in the war. Today also happens to be the 16th anniversary of the founding of our organization. I am grateful to all those who helped us in our research, from Eric Lee and his team at the Kimbell Art Museum, to Lt. Sebastiano Antoci of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and Monsignor Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives. Collaborations such as this are essential to the Foundation’s continued efforts to locate and return works of art and other cultural heritage missing since the end of the war.”
“Recovering artworks and historical documents involves regaining our history and identity” states Prof. Fabio Finotti, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York. “It is also a way of reflecting on what has been destroyed by war".
During WWII, portions of northern Italy were devastated by bombing and artillery including the church that housed this papal bull. United States Army officer Wolfgang Lehmann—a member of the “Ritchie Boys,” a special group of American soldiers trained at Camp Ritchie in military intelligence—was attached to the 88th Infantry Division when he found the document among the church rubble, picked it up, and took it home to the United States as a souvenir of his military service. Following several years of service, Lehmann was honorably discharged from the US Army with the rank of major and began a long and distinguished career in the United States Foreign Service. He and his wife are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His nephew, Walter Lehmann, reached out to the Monuments Men and Women Foundation to identify the object and coordinate its return to Italy.
“My uncle would have been pleased to know that a document that he rescued from the destruction of war is now on its way back home to the church where he found it 79 years ago,” said Mr. Lehmann. “I know he would want to encourage other veterans and their family members who may possess similar objects to follow in his footsteps and contact the Monuments Men and Women Foundation.”
The Foundation wishes to express its gratitude to Bank of America for a grant that helped fund a portion of the research, and Sondra and Toby Eoff who generously helped underwrite restitution costs.
“We are extremely honored to be a part of the return of this papal bull, as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect with the past, both in our Catholic faith and our country’s heroic service during World War II,” Sondra and Toby Eoff said. “Getting to be part of the collaboration between the Monuments Men and Women Foundation, the soldier’s family and Italian authorities for the return of this papal bull was a deeply moving experience we will never forget.”
If you or someone you know has a work of art or cultural object brought home from Europe that may have been displaced during and after WWII, please call the Monuments Men and Women Foundation on its toll-free tip line: 1-866-WWII-ART, or complete an online submission form at www.monumentsmenandwomenfnd.org/contact. The Foundation and its team of experts respond to every lead.
About Monuments Men and Women Foundation
The Monuments Men and Women Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising global awareness about the importance of respecting and preserving our shared cultural heritage. It is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal for its work honoring the historic achievements of the Monuments Men and Women and completing their mission to right the wrongs of the Nazi looting machine. The Monuments Men and Women Foundation works with veterans, their family members, and others to identify the objects and return them to their rightful owner. Using its super partes role, the Foundation acts on behalf of the art or cultural object in question, without favoritism, without an agenda. For more information, www.monumentsmenandwomenfnd.org.
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