Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel return a 16th century tapestry, stolen from a Spanish national cathedral in 1979, to the people of Spain. The tapestry was seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in Houston, Texas. Photo courtesty of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel return a 16th century tapestry, stolen from a Spanish national cathedral in 1979, to the people of Spain. The tapestry was seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in Houston, Texas. Photo courtesty of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In December, we wrote about the recovery of a looted Spanish tapestry in Houston. On Wednesday, the piece was formally turned over to the Spanish government during a ceremony in Washington.

The work depicts St. Vincent, who lived in the 3rd century and was martyred around a 304 because of his faith. Ravens guarded his body from vultures and then took watch over his grave, until 1173, when he was dug up and moved to Lisbon. He is the patron saint of wine makers and vinegar makers.

Here’s the customs account of the matter:

ICE returns stolen 16th century tapestry to Spain
April 17, 2013

WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned a 16th century tapestry, stolen in 1979 from a church, to the government of Spain Wednesday at a repatriation ceremony at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Washington. The tapestry was seized by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations special agents in Houston after it was sold at auction.

The wool and silk tapestry was stolen in December 1979 from a national cathedral in Roda de Isábena, in the province of Huesca, Aragon, Spain. The tapestry depicts St. Ramon, the Virgin Mary with infant Jesus, Saint Vincent of Saragossa and Saint Valerius, used as an altar piece in the Romanesque cathedral. The tapestry was produced in the early 1500s and was part of the church’s collection when the cathedral was declared a national monument by royal decree in 1924.

The return of this cultural property to Spain is the culmination of an investigation by HSI Houston, HSI Madrid, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, Belgian National Police, Spanish Civil Guard (Guardía Civil) and its Historical Heritage Protection Group.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Homeland Security Investigations understands the cultural and historical significance of protecting a country’s treasures and we are pleased today that this 16th century tapestry will be returned to the people of Spain.”

In November 2012, HSI special agents seized the tapestry, under the National Stolen Property Act, from a local Houston business under an HSI initiative called “Hidden Relic.” This initiative is designed to investigate, recover and repatriate stolen cultural property.

The government of Spain requested assistance under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in recovering the stolen tapestry after a curator at the Museum in Lérida, Spain, notified the Spanish Heritage Protection Group that the tapestry was listed for sale in a January 2010 catalog from the Brussels Antiques and Fine Art Fair. The Spanish Civil Guard notified the Belgian Police that the tapestry was stolen. An investigation was initiated and it was discovered that the tapestry was purchased in 2008 by an auction house in Munich by a Belgium gallery owner along with two partners in Milan and Paris. The tapestry was circulated in galleries in Milan and Paris before arriving in Belgium. In April 2010, the tapestry was subsequently sold at auction for $369,000 to a business in Houston.

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