Worthy of a spy novel
More than 35 years after being stolen, four reliefs of the fifteenth century polychrome alabaster (the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi and Ascension) have been placed in their original box of the Basilica of Saint Michel de Bordeaux.
Classified as historical monuments in 1846, these restored reliefs come from an altarpiece composed of 9 panels adorning the chapel of St. Joseph of St. Michael's Basilica.
The thieves had replaced the originals with plaster casts around 1984, thus delaying the discovery.
The four remaining reliefs had integrated a private American collection in 1988, exported from France in an apparent legality (authorization of the administration), since their flight had not yet been discovered.
The steps taken as early as 1994 to recover these signs could only advance in 2010 when the American keeper died. The City of Bordeaux then sollicited the services of the Ministry of Culture, DRAC Nouvelle-Aquitaine and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 2016, the French Embassy in New York discovers that the American collector had resold the alabaster to two English antique dealers without mentioning their disputed sources. For nearly twenty years, the reliefs were in a private English collection.
In 2017, the City of Bordeaux began a negotiation with intermediaries resulting in a graceful return of the last four panels by their last British buyer and ending one of the major theft cases of the 1980s committed in the churches of France.
After restoration, the four panels find their place in September 2019 in the altarpiece of the chapel Saint-Joseph, again complete.