A significant cultural treasure dating back to the 14th century, the Processional Cross, has officially been handed over to Croatia, the Ministry of Culture and Media said in a statement on Thursday.
After half a century, the cross has been returned to Croatia from the Italian Republic. This successful restitution is the result of coordinated efforts between the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Italy, the Ministry of Culture and Media, the Ministry of the Interior, and Italian institutions at both the national and local levels.
Dr. Nina Obuljen Koržinek, the Minister of Culture and Media, expressed immense gratitude to everyone involved in this demanding and lengthy process of repatriation. She especially acknowledged the Lia family, in whose private possession the cross was found.
The collector, Amadeo Lia, had acquired the cross through an auction house in London, and the family possessed legitimate documents confirming their ownership.
The Processional Cross, which dates back to the 14th century, was stolen during a robbery from the treasury of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Francis in Zadar nearly 50 years ago. In 2009, it was discovered in the permanent collection of the Amadeo Lia City Museum in the Italian city of La Spezia by Dr. Donal Cooper, a medievalist and professor at the University of Cambridge.
Since then, continuous efforts have been made by the Ministry of Culture and Media, as well as Croatian police and judicial authorities, along with representatives from the Franciscan Monastery, to return the cross to its rightful owners through Italian institutions.
Throughout this lengthy and challenging restitution process, considerable efforts were made by the conservators of the Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Conservation Department in Zadar, the legal department of the Ministry of Culture and Media in continuous cooperation with the Organized Crime Unit of the Ministry of the Interior.
The Minister announced that after the standard examination procedure at the Croatian Conservation Institute, the cross will be returned to the Monastery of St. Francis in Zadar, from where it was stolen in 1974.
Ambassador Jasen Mesić of the Republic of Croatia in Italy provided an update on the return process over the past eight months. Thanks to the intensive efforts of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture of the Italian Republic, other Italian institutions, the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Italy, and particularly the willingness of the Lia family to return the cultural treasure to Croatia, the legal procedure was swiftly completed, laying the groundwork for the return of the Processional Cross to the Republic of Croatia.
Tamara Ganoci Frisch, Senior Inspector at the Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture and Media, emphasized that this restitution example is the outcome of intensive long-term cooperation, exceptional dedication, and high professionalism at both the national and international levels.
She also drew attention to the issue of illegal trade in cultural goods, whose consequences are evident in social, cultural, and economic aspects. Ganoci Frisch stressed that documenting and legally protecting such items are fundamental for the return of all missing or stolen cultural treasures, and the Ministry of Culture and Media has been actively working on these activities for many years.
Tatjana Horvatić, Head of the Department for Movable, Ethnographic, and Intangible Heritage at the Ministry, highlighted that the Processional Cross is a valuable silver enameled and gilded artifact. Its intricate iconographic program indicates that it was originally commissioned for the Franciscan Monastery of St. Francis in Zadar and crafted by the renowned Gothic goldsmith Franjo Antonijev from Milan.
Horvatić confirmed that the cross was likely made in Zadar, which is evident from the depictions of the city’s protectors on it. She also pointed out a peculiar aspect, the presence of a female figure alongside St. Louis, believed to be a depiction of the donor, possibly Queen Elizabeth Kotromanić, daughter of Ban Stephen II Kotromanić and wife of King Louis the Great of Hungary.
Dr. Gordan Grlić Radman, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, emphasized that the return of this cultural treasure, which will soon be back at the Franciscan Monastery of St. Francis in Zadar after almost half a century, is another testament to the intense, friendly, and neighborly relations between Croatia and Italy. It also reflects their shared commitment to the values promoted by international conventions regarding the restitution of illegally appropriated cultural goods.
These values are constructively fostered in the two countries’ bilateral relations, as outlined in the Executive Program of Cooperation in the Field of Culture and Education between the Governments of the Republic of Croatia and the Italian Republic for the years 2022 to 2026. Minister Grlić Radman expressed his special gratitude to the Ministry of Culture of the Italian Republic, the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Mayor of La Spezia, and the Lia family, along with Minister Obuljen Koržinek.
With the successful return of the Processional Cross, Croatia and Italy strengthen their cultural ties and set an example for international cooperation in protecting and preserving their shared heritage, the Ministry of Culture and Media concluded.