Reliquary bust of Saint Yrieix, ca. 1220-40.

French Village Urges Metropolitan Museum to Return Religious Bust

Daniel Boisserie, mayor of the French village Saint-Yrieix-La-Perche, sent a letter to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 10 officially demanding the return of a thirteenth-century gold-and-silver reliquary that he claims belongs to the town, according to The Local. The piece, a jewel-inlaid bust that purportedly once held the bones of Saint Yrieix, was purchased by J. P. Morgan in 1907 from an English antique dealer; Morgan later donated it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1917. It is thought that in 1906 a parish priest replaced the original relic with a copy in Saint-Yrieix-La-Perche, whose population is around seven thousand. Until the 1950s, the village was unaware that its bust was a reproduction.

Boisserie asserts that the reliquary was seized from France illicitly and is hoping to resolve the conflict in an amicable way with the Met, which has not yet released a statement about the situation. “The sale and exportation outside of France of the reliquary of Saint Yrieix were carried out unlawfully around May 1906,” Judith Kagan, France’s bureau chief of conservation of moveable and instrumental heritage, told Artnet. Boisserie warned that if the Met fails to restitute the reliquary, the village might take civil action against the museum.