Rare icon on its way back to monastery

A priceless icon which is thought to have the power to work miracles has been recovered some five weeks after it was stolen from a cliff-side monastery in the eastern Peloponnese, police said on Saturday. The icon was found after officers arrested an unnamed 28-year-old Romanian man in the village of Falakro in Laconia, southern Peloponnese, on Thursday. He had votive offerings, which had been stolen with the religious painting, in his possession. The suspect is said to have admitted to stealing the icon and led officers to the spot where he had hidden it – inside an outdoor wall next to a small church in Falakro. «The recovery of the artifact and the arrest of the thieves was a matter of honor for the Greek Police (ELAS),» said police chief Anastassios Dimoschakis. The icon, which is some 700 years old, was stolen from the Elona Monastery in Leonidio last month. Police mounted a massive operation to find it. The renowned image of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus attracts thousands of pilgrims to the monastery and its theft stunned the religious community and locals. Police indicated the 28-year-old probably acted on his own. Another Romanian was arrested and later released on Crete after it emerged that the main suspect had been using his motorcycle. But officers said it is unlikely the second Romanian was involved in the daring theft. The 28-year-old has lived in Greece for the last seven years and officers are investigating whether he was linked to any other crimes. Police said the icon, which measures 40 by 50 centimeters, will be returned to the Elona Monastery on October 1 and Dimoschakis suggested that a chapel be built on the spot where the image was found. He said the police were willing to pay for its construction. Dimoschakis said that a number of people had offered money to the police to be used as a reward for anyone providing information in connection with the theft. The police chief said that people could now donate money to the monastery instead.