Sixena works of art arrive in Aragon

Van containing disputed pieces reaches monastery at 3.30pm under police escort

Sixena artworks leaving Lleida in a moving van, escorted by ten police vehicles
Sixena artworks leaving Lleida in a moving van, escorted by ten police vehicles / ACN

ACN | Lleida/Vilanova de Sixena

December 11, 2017 03:54 PM

The disputed works of art forcibly removed by court order from Lleida Museum on Monday morning arrived at their former home in the Sixena monastery in Aragon at around 3.30pm. Guardia Civil police escorted a van containing the 44 artworks that a judge last week ruled should be returned to the monastery.

The medieval pieces brought to Catalonia after the Civil War have been a point of contention between the Aragon and Catalan authorities for years. Yet, with Catalonia under direct rule, the Spanish culture minister ordered that the court ruling should be carried out before Monday’s midnight deadline.

The works of art are part of a larger collection of more than a thousand items removed from the Sixena monastery during the Civil War and taken to Catalonia. They were taken during the early days of the conflict, when monasteries and other Catholic buildings where being destroyed, in order to be protected. In the 90s, the Catalan government formally bought them. After years of complaints, Spanish judges last year ordered that the items be returned, declaring the sale void. While the Catalan authorities gave back some smaller pieces, they had decided that the remaining 44 artworks were to stay in Lleida due to their fragility. Yet, on November 15, a judge in Huesca upheld a request by the Sixena local authority and ruled that the works of art must be returned.

While a crowd gathered outside Lleida Museum to protest the removal of the items, around a hundred people were also waiting outside the monastery to welcome the arrival of the pieces after a journey of about an hour and a half. The operation to pack and load the artworks, some of which are extremely fragile, began in the early hours of the morning.

While the Catalan authorities have consistently argued that moving the works of art would likely cause irreparable harm to the Romanesque treasures, the Aragon government says that it has prepared for their removal for weeks and that their new destination is fully prepared to host them.

Both in Catalonia and Aragon, the operation to move the items involved a hefty police presence. The controversy over the artworks has become something of a territorial dispute in recent times, as can be seen from the crowd outside Lleida Museum singing the Catalan national anthem, and the crowd outside the monastery singing traditional Aragonese songs.