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Lausanne cathedral gets stolen treasures back – briefly

The Bernese have kept the Lausanne treasures for nearly 500 years Keystone

Stolen treasures from Lausanne's cathedral are en route home after spending nearly 500 years in their captors' hands. Some of the treasures are on display at the cathedral.

Bern, their current owner, says it has no intention of returning the loot, which is scheduled for a four-month exhibition in Lausanne.

In 1536, Bernese conquerors of canton Vaud took the treasures, which include some of the world’s oldest tapestries and brocade dating from the end of the Middle Ages. Made by skilled craftsmen, the tapestries are among the most valuable items of the collection.

The creation last year of the “Movement for the recuperation of Lausanne cathedral’s treasures” renewed interest in the booty.

“Tell them right off: from a legal as well as a moral point of view, there’s no way we can respond to restitution demands,” said Peter Jezler, director of Bern’s Historical Museum, now home to the treasures.

Parallel exhibitions

The Museum has organised parallel exhibitions of the treasures, in Lausanne and Bern. The tapestries will be displayed in Bern, while religious ornaments are shown in Lausanne.

According to experts, the issue of restitution of the booty poses a number of problems. The bishop of the Lausanne diocese is the theoretical inheritor of the items. However, when Bern invaded Vaud, it took over the state’s obligations and kicked out the bishop.

Bern justified the confiscation, claiming it needed the money to administer the state, in particular traditional church functions of helping the poor and maintaining buildings.

“If we wanted to return to the original situation, then we’d have to consider giving back the cathedral to the Catholics,” Jezler joked.

Jezler said he did not want to emulate the bad example set by the British museum, which refused to lend the Parthenon statues it holds to Athens, even for the Olympic games.

“As inconceivable as it is to return these objects to Lausanne, we respect the Vaudois interest in them,” Jezler continued. “I’m sure this won’t be the last trip the treasures make to Lausanne.”

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR