Tombs of Cypriot Archbishops vandalized, not robbed
A police officer reacts as he stands near the graves of two Cyprus Archbishops at a cemetery in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Sunday, March 21, 2010. (AP / Petros Karadjias)
Published Sunday, March 21, 2010 10:35AM EDT
NICOSIA, Cyprus - Cyprus police on Sunday arrested a man suspected of vandalizing the tombs of three Cyprus archbishops who led the island's Greek Orthodox church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a police spokesman said.
The 34-year-old Romanian man admitted to interrogators that he had removed the marble plaques covering the graves of Sofronios III, Kyrillos II and Kyrillos III overnight, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.
Officers arrested him when he entered a police station abutting the downtown Nicosia graveyard where the archbishops' tombs are located, left a bag of human excrement and tried to flee, Katsounotos said.
Police initially believed that the remains of Sofronios III and Kyrillos II had been stolen, igniting fears of a copycat grave robbery two weeks after the stolen corpse of the island's former president Tassos Papadopoulos was found and reburied.
Katsounotos said that the Cyprus church had years ago reburied the remains of Kyrillos II in his birth village of Prodromos in the Troodos mountain range, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Nicosia.
The remains of Kyrillos III were left undisturbed, while investigators are trying to determine whether the remains of Sofronios III were in fact stolen, or reburied earlier by the Church elsewhere, he said.
Officers discovered the vandalized tombs after responding to a pre-dawn fire at the graveyard.
Grave robbing was virtually unheard of on Cyprus before Papadopoulos' body was snatched, and disturbing the remains of the deceased is deeply taboo among a mostly religious population.
In the Papadopoulos case, three suspects -- including a convicted murderer serving life in prison -- face charges of extortion over the Dec. 11 theft.
Investigators made arrests in that case after a suspect offered Papadopoulos' family the location of the ex-leader's body in exchange for cash to start a new life abroad. No money was ever paid.
Sofronios III, Kyrillos II and Kyrillos III led the Cypriot church between 1865 and 1947 during Ottoman and British colonial rule. The island gained independence in 1960.