Rouen, an association demands the return of stolen stained glass windows and today in the United States

The Parisian association Lumières sur le patrimoine filed a complaint in mid-December 2023 with the Rouen public prosecutor for concealment of the theft of stained glass windows from Rouen Cathedral. She asks that the six stained glass windows, stolen at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, be returned to their original location. They are currently scattered in three American museums: the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn (Pennsylvania), the Worcester Art Museum (Massachusetts) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

For Philippe Machicote, the president of the association, it is legitimate to demand the restitution of these stained glass windows since they are “imprescriptible and inalienable national treasures”which have belonged to the State since the Concordat of 1801. He therefore orders the State and the Ministry of Culture to make a request for official restitution.

The theft of five of the stained glass windows was documented by the archaeologist and art historian Jean de Lafond (1888-1975), who had previously inventoried them (in 1911) and then stored them in crates during the restoration of the cathedral. Twenty years later, he noticed their disappearance. “When the boxes were opened in 1931, on the occasion of an exhibition of ancient religious art, we found little more than tattered panels, simple debris, a few borders and… stones”he describes in an article published in 1972 in the Bulletin of the National Society of Antiquaries of France.

The stained glass windows were then sold undercover. “Smuggled through the Parisian market, these stained glass windows ended up in the hands of American collectors and, after their death, in museums,” explains Philippe Machicote to the newspaper Ouest France.

These five panels come from the glass roof of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” from Rouen Cathedral, which dates from the 13th century and illustrates the story of young Christians who, persecuted for their faith, fled and fell asleep in a cave for many years. The sixth panel would come from one of the chapels in the nave, but its route is more difficult to trace.

In September 2023, the Lumières sur le patrimoine association had already filed a complaint against Sotheby’s, for the auction in 2015 of two stained glass windows from Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, which had disappeared for more than two centuries. The complaint was rejected by the Paris prosecutor’s office.

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