Church of England Enters ‘Discussions’ for Returning Benin Bronzes

As momentum grows in Europe behind a push for repatriating the Benin Bronzes, a controversial group of thousands of objects looted by British troops during the 19th century, the Church of England is considering returning two works from the cache in its holdings. The Evening Standard first reported the news.

Reached by ARTnews, a Church of England spokesperson said that it was “in discussions” about returning the sculptures, which were gifted to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1982 by two entities: the medical professor Ambrose F. Alli and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The spokesperson said that the works were “given to us by the Benin kingdom” and that they “were not taken from Benin in 1897.”

Digital Benin, a project that maps which institutions hold Benin Bronzes, had contacted Lambeth Palace—the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury—about whether it held any objects from the group, and now Lambeth Palace is looking into the possibility of repatriating the sculptures.

The Benin Bronzes were taken in 1897 by British troops as part of a colonial conquest. They had belonged to the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria, and they have since ended up at institutions across the globe, including the British Museum, the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

[What are the Benin Bronzes, and why are they important?]

The works from the holdings of Lambeth Palace could reside at the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which is set to open in 2025 and will act as a space for Benin Bronzes, should they be sent home. “We have offered for the two busts to be included in the Digital Benin project and eventually, returned to our friends in Edo, Nigeria, where they may remain,” the Church of England spokesperson said.

The news about Lambeth Palace comes one day after another London institution, the Horniman Museum, said it would consider returning objects that were removed from their respective homes as a result of “colonial violence,” according to a document being circulated by the institution. The museum’s holdings include 15 Benin Bronzes.

In March, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland committed to returning the sole Benin Bronze in its holdings, and the Humboldt Forum said it would begin seeking the repatriation of the 530 works from the group in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnological Museum.

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