Pope Francis has made the decision to gift the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Athens three fragments of Parthenon sculptures that have been preserved in the Vatican Museums for centuries.

A statement from the Holy See Press Office said the gifts to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece, are meant to be “a concrete sign of a sincere desire to continue on the ecumenical journey of witness to the truth.”

It’s not the first ecumenical gift Pope Francis has made. In 2019, Pope Francis gave patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople a reliquary containing bone fragments of Saint Peter.

The Vatican Museums have three marble fragments from the Parthenon’s decorative sculptures in their collection, which were acquired in the 19th century. These fragments include part of the head of a horse from a sculpture of Athena’s chariot and the heads of sculptures of two men.

The head of a horse depicted in a relief on the west front of a building shows Athena and Poseidon competing for control over Attica. The horse’s head is part of Athena’s chariot in the scene. Another relief on the same building depicts a boy carrying a tray of votive cakes, likely as part of the Panathenaic procession honoring Athena. A third relief, featuring the head of a bearded man, is believed to be from a metope on the southern side of the building and depicts a battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs.

The Parthenon is an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, located on the Acropolis in Athens. It was constructed in the mid-fifth century B.C.

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