LAMBETH PALACE has agreed to return to Nigeria two bronze busts that were donated 40 years ago to a former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Lord Runcie.
The statues were presented to Archbishop Runcie in 1982 in the office of the Kingdom of Benin in West Africa – now southern Nigeria – and are part of a large collection of gifts that are kept in the palace. Although the artifacts were not among those looted by British forces during a campaign in Benin in 1897, there were widespread calls for the return of African treasures.
Lambeth Palace was recently contacted by the Digital Benin project at MARKK in Hamburg (former ethnology museum) about the items. A palace spokeswoman said: “The bronze busts we received as a gift from the Kingdom of Benin in 1982 are likely contemporary and not historical objects that have been forcibly removed. . .
“One bronze came from Ambrose F. Alli on behalf of the government and people of the state of Bendel in Nigeria, the other from the University of Nigeria in Nusska. The two bronze busts were not taken over from Benin in 1897.
“As a gesture of good faith, we offered to include the two busts in the Digital Benin project and eventually returned to our friends in Edo, Nigeria, where they may stay.”
Since then, the Church of England has been asked to conduct a full inventory of the artifacts preserved over the years. A review of ecclesiastical monuments and monuments deemed offensive in relation to slavery, colonialism or racism is already underway (News, June 19, 2020). It began after Black Lives Matters protests last year (News, June 5, 2020).
Archbishop’s Council of Cathedrals and Buildings Director Becky Clark said at the time: “Although these decisions are made locally, dioceses and national bodies such as the Church Buildings Council have a role to play in facilitating these discussions. We have provided advice and support to the churches when facing the complex challenges of the past and the reality of the present. “