Metropolitan Museum of Art returns lost medieval charter to Belgium

On Thursday, the US Metropolitan Museum officially returned a lost charter from 1176 to the Belgian State Archives. The handover ceremony took place at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, in the presence of Belgian Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib, state secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine and US Ambassador to Belgium Michael Adler.

The charter, written in Latin, was donated 847 years ago by Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace to the Benedictine abbey of Messines in West Flanders. The abbey was destroyed and looted during World War I, resulting in the loss of its possessions.

Occasionally, some deeds turn up in private collections or at public sales by renowned auction houses. Recovering these documents, which are considered inalienable state treasures, is one of the core tasks of the Belgian State Archives. In 2016, they were informed that the medieval charter was likely in possession of The Met.

The US museum acquired the charter in good faith in 1923 as a donation from the museum's Curator of Arms and Armor, who bought it from an unrecorded source in Europe. A thorough investigation revealed that the charter was part of the archives of Messines Abbey. The Met then decided to transfer the charter to Belgium free of charge. The document will now be stored in the National Archives of Bruges.


The handover ceremony of the charter. © BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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