Rare book for Italy

London: A 12th-century missal [a book of liturgy], which has formed part of the British Library's collection since 1947, must be returned to its home city of Benevento, in southern Italy, according to a ruling. It is written in the rare Beneventan script, unique to the region, which flourished from the 8th to the 13th centuries. The ruling marks the first time that an artwork plundered during the Second World War and held in a British national collection will be returned to its rightful owners. The claim was brought by the metropolitan chapter of the Cathedral of Benevento to the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a body set up in 2000 by the British Government to assess claims on art in national collections allegedly looted during the Nazi era. The panel's report, by Sir David Hirst, judged that the missal — though the evidence was ``circumstantial'' and the arguments ``finely balanced'' — had, in fact, been looted, and that the moral claim of the Italians for restoration held good. The missal had got into the hands of Captain Douglas Ash, of the British Intelligence Corps. He showed it to the British Library in 1946. The British Library considered that the book might be illegal plunder, but bought the missal for �420 the following year when it was auctioned by Capt. Ash.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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