CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A 350-year-old statue of a saint and
former pope, taken from an Italian church nearly two decades ago,
has been found in the home of a North Carolina couple who had no
idea it was stolen, authorities said.
The intricately carved bust of St. Innocent will be returned to
the church in Naples, Italy, U.S. Immigration and Customs and
Enforcement agents said.
The statue was one of 17 similar busts and two oil paintings
taken from the church in November 1990. Authorities told The
Charlotte Observer the trail went cold until two years ago, when
officials in Rome let federal agents know an Italian citizen sold a
similar statue to an antiques dealer from Greensboro.
The statue sold in Charlotte was bought by the same dealer at an
antiques fair in France, said Neal Johnson, the Charlotte dealer
who bought the statue from the same Greensboro dealer and sold it
to the couple.
"I've never heard of this happening anywhere other than some
big-time story in New York," Johnson said. "You don't always know
the lineage of pieces you buy."
The wood and painted gold statue was made by 17th-century
Franciscan artist Diego da Careri and was part of a set of busts
displayed at the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci.
It has lost much of its value since it was stolen. The head is
gone, part of the cross the saint carried is missing and much of
the paint has deteriorated.
Agents continue to investigate the original heist. The Americans
involved have not been charged, ICE spokesman Brandon Montgomery
"A lot of times, what happens is the person who is knowingly
stealing something puts it in the black market," Montgomery said.
"It can go through three or four hands before it gets to the first
legitimate buyer, so to speak."
St. Innocent was born in Albano, Italy, and became pope in
December 401. He was the pope nine years later when the Visigoths
captured and sacked Rome.