NICOSIA, CYPRUS - A rare, 1,500 year-old mosaic depicting St. Mark has joined other repatriated pieces that were looted from the ethnically split Cyprus' breakaway north, a Cypriot Orthodox Church official said Wednesday.
Together the pieces will create a Swiss government-funded reproduction of an apse that adorned a 6th-century church in the island's north.
The mosaics were stolen by Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikman from the Church of the Virgin of Kanakaria about four decades ago and sold abroad.
Cyprus' Byzantine Museum Director Ioannis Eliades said the apse will go on display at the museum until it can return to the Kanakaria church.
"This is a major project that we had envisioned for many years to restore these pieces and now we have the last piece," Eliades told The Associated Press.
"Especially such a mosaic which dates to the same period as the Ravenna mosaics is of particular importance, of great architectural value and ... also has a very high religious value."
The Kanakaria mosaics are among a few early Christian works that survived the iconoclastic period in the 8th and 9th centuries when most of such works were destroyed.
The St. Mark mosaic returned to Cyprus after Dutch investigator Arthur Brand tracked it down in Monaco and handed it over to authorities at the Cypriot Embassy in the Netherlands last week.
The Cyprus Antiquities Department said that initial information about the mosaic's whereabouts was provided to Cypriot authorities two years ago by the Greek-American organization AHEPA.
The department said pieces of the mosaics including those of Saints Luke, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Thomas and Andrew as well as the upper part of the Virgin Mary and Christ were gradually repatriated since 1983, but more pieces are still missing.