A Gift to His Holiness Pope John Paul II

A surprising ending

In the spring of 1979, Msgr. Gianfranco Nolli, who at the time was Inspector General of the Gregorian Museum, suggested that the Mansoors offer two artifacts from their Amarna Collection as a gift to His Holiness Pope John Paul II. He personally selected a slightly smaller than life size head of Nefertiti in pink limestone and a white limestone relief showing a profile of King Akhenaten. The two objects were presented to His Holiness, in person, on October 24,1979. He ordered the two artifacts to be exhibited in the Gregorian Museum. (see chapter 30, The Scandal of the Century )

Several years later, after the untimely death of Msgr. Nolli, the objects were removed from exhibit, contrary to the wishes of the Pope. When we, the Mansoors, found out we enquired about the fate of the objects. We found out that following the advice of a former consultant, the Museum had removed the objects from its permanent exhibit. After a long and unfruitful correspondence, we decided to ask for the gift back. The Museum acting director complied.

From the correspondence, it appears that the authorities of the Museum had followed the advice of a former consultant, a certain Jean-Claude Grenier, who had declared the objects " recent copies " of well-known artifacts. What is disturbing, is the credibility of this Mr. Grenier in this entire episode. You see, Mr. Grenier was consultant to the Museum between 1985 and 1989. Msgr. Nolli was still alive in 1985. Why didn’t Mr. Grenier advise him to remove the objects then? What is more intriguing is the fact that his letter indicating the objects to be " recent copies " is dated February 2, 1998 on Vatican Museum stationery or 9 years after the termination of his contract. A logical person would ask:" Since when are former employees or consultants allowed to use a former employer’s stationery NINE YEARS after their termination ?" What was the purpose of the Museum authorities in allowing him the use of their stationery ? There is something suspicious there. Maybe the Vatican Secretary of State should investigate this serious matter.

In any case, in a privately published booklet "In Defence of the Mansoor Amarna Collection"Msgr. Nolli makes the following statement:" for anyone who does not know it, before an object of this kind is presented to the Pope, the competent authorities have it examined by experts and technicians who are in charge of the particular field to which the artifact belongs, to be absolutely sure that it is not a forgery. This is what has been done for the Mansoor Amarna pieces which were examined for almost two years by the Inspector of the Gregorian Museum……….who declared them authentic. IT IS NOT A GIFT BLINDLY ACCEPTED.

Asked for an opinion regarding the authenticity of the Mansoor Collection, Msgr. Nolli wrote Mr. Ron Barr, Director of Development at San Francisco State University :" My certainty comes from the fact that for more than ten years I have had the pleasure of studying some pieces belonging to the same Mansoor Collection. They are all characterized by a unity of style and material, in consideration of which there can be no doubt. During my visit last October to the University of San Francisco (sic), I was able to see and study the statuette in question, and I was convinced of its authenticity and of that of the other pieces in the collection."

When Edgard and Henri Mansoor and their sister Elvira Mansoor, who is a Salesian nun, went to retrieve the artifacts, they visited with Don Raffaello Farina, Head of the Vatican Library and thought his advice. While sympathetic to our cause, he suggested that this may be a losing battle, since we were dealing with a " Mafia ", a term we heard often from Father Pierre DuBourguet, S.J.,Ph.D. and Dr. Desroches Noblecourt. At least one other Egyptologist made that remark; his name will be published at a later date.

It is a shame, that like the Louvre, the Acting Director of the Gregorian Museum, preferred to listen to gossip and not his scientists.


Posted April 2004


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