Bulgarian women on trial for damaging antiquities in Athens

Two Bulgarian women were arrested in Greece on Sunday on suspicion of smearing oil on exhibits at some of Athens' major museums over the past two months, state agency ANA said.

They were arrested at the National Historical Museum, which houses relics from the 19th-century Greek war of independence.

The two women, both members of the Roma community, allegedly told police that they were using oil and myrrh on the relics "because the Holy Scripture says it is miraculous", the agency said.

They were due to face a prosecutor on Monday.

It is alleged that the two middle-aged women left oil marks on dozens of items at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in July. The museum is home to the country's most extensive collection of religious relics.

The incident was originally revealed by Kathimerini daily, not the museum itself. Then Lydia Koniordou, the Culture Minister tried to play down the incident.

"I wouldn't exactly call it vandalism...it was some ladies spreading oil," said Koniordou, who was later replaced in a cabinet reshuffle.

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In late August, the Benaki Museum — which houses the foremost collection on Greek culture — said two people had likewise splashed an "odorless and colorless oily substance" on exhibit bases and cases.

In most cases, the restoration staff were able to clean the exhibits. However, more lasting damage was caused to wooden items, including a sixth-century Coptic cross.

av/rc (AFP, AP)

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