The Elgin Marbles must be returned. And so must Wales’ absent artefacts
The Elgin Marbles, or Parthenon Sculptures as their correct owners would quite rightly prefer we call them, are back in the news again.
This time, the 200 year spat between the UK and Greece left the establishment’s position looking even more pathetic, with Rishi Sunak abruptly cancelling a planned meeting with Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the latter’s intention to raise the subject of his country’s stolen goods.
The UK’s post-Brexit reputation could have done with some boosting, but Rishi and his puppetmasters are towing the company line as ever. It seems mummy never told them to give back the toys they stole.
On Wednesday, Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis said: “The demand for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is a demand that arises from law, from history and from universal cultural values.”
Why Greece should have to demand I don’t know. In this more enlightened age of consent and decolonisation, to simply ask should be enough, shouldn’t it?
The unified voices from Greece are inspiring. They’re not going to let this one go, and ultimately they will win, so wouldn’t it be a lot easier all round if the men in power just grew up and got on with it.
Wales has a lot to learn from the Greek people’s persistence. Especially since we, too, have so many of our most important artefacts currently being denied to us. Some in that very same British Museum even. Anyone else noticing a pattern?
The Mold Gold Cape, or Clogyn Aur yr Wyddgrug, a ceremonial cape made of solid sheet gold, is perhaps our most famous missing piece.
The cape, found by workmen at Bryn yr Ellyllon (Hill of the Elves) in 1833 was acquired by the British Museum in 1836 and is considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds in the UK, with worldwide significance.
Calls have been consistently been made by politicians, such as Plaid’s Mabon ap Gwynfor and Liz Saville Roberts, as well as the former librarian of the National Library of Wales, Andrew Green for the cape’s return. Plaid’s Elfyn Lwyd made the case for the sake of Wales’ ‘collective memory’.
Surprisingly, however, the repatriation of our historical artefacts does not form part of any current Welsh Government strategy.
Sadly, and not surprisingly, the Mold Gold Cape is far from alone in its cultural significance, and its notable absence.
The Red Book of Hergest, or Llyfr Coch Hergest, is another treasure of both national and international significance that is currently missing from the reach of its intended audience. Its current home – Jesus College of Oxford University. I suppose it’s better than Oxford Brookes, but why is it not in Wales?
Considered one of the most important medieval scripts written in the Welsh language, or any language for that matter, it preserves a collection of prose and poetry including the Mabinogion, historical texts and a series of Triads – fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and history.
Who else should be the custodians but the Welsh?
Other artefacts housed in the British Museum include the magnificent Rhyd y Gors Shield, the Moel Hebog Shield and the Llanllyfni Lunula – a crescent shaped ornament thought to be a ceremonial piece.
The British Museum isn’t alone in its display and storage of Welsh plunder either – with important items from Wales held in National Museums Liverpool, as is the case with the Trawsfynydd Tankard, and Oxford University yet again which holds the Red Lady of Paviland – considered by many to be the equivalent of Wales’ Parthenon Sculptures.
And it’s not just England that is denying Wales of its collective memory.
A letter from Owain Glyndŵr to the King of France written in 1406 currently resides in the French National Library in Paris but one might argue over its rightful home in this case. Maybe. Let’s put that one on the back burner.
For now, like Greece, we are most certainly being denied the cultural and economic benefits of our very own property.
A museum was built especially to house the Parthenon Sculptures at the foot of the Acropolis. There could be no more fitting place for them. The Greek people deserve to be reunited with their ancestral treasures without having to catch a plane and leave the EU. Greece also deserves the tourist footfall and economic benefit.
Wales, too, has the expertise and facilities to house ours. We also have the will.
We shouldn’t rejoice at having our artefacts visit us on tour, or have to battle our way to London or Paris to catch a fleeting glimpse. The stories told in Wales, that grew in Wales, belong in Wales – not out of sight and out of mind.
We shouldn’t, also, forget that a plea for return is largely symbolic. It is about the respect of our will, and respect of our status as equals.
Our ancestors channeled an energy when creating the Mold Gold Cape, the Rhyd y Gors shield and the Red Book of Hergest. That energy and history is currently being denied to the pieces’ rightful custodians.
What wonders or even movements might they inspire, if only we all had the opportunity to see them close up; to feel that they are truly ours again; to channel an ancestral energy just waiting to be recharged.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.