September 16, 2007

Woman finds 800-year-old cross in trash

A valuable cross dating to the Middle Ages has turned up in a trash bin in Austria.

Police in Salzburg say a woman looking for old crockery in a trash container in the western Austrian town of Zell am See stumbled upon the precious piece in 2004. They say she apparently she had no idea of it's value and just stashed it behind her couch.

Now experts say the cross could be worth as much as $700,000.

A local museum has custody of it, at least for the moment. And whether the trash-foraging woman, who has not been identified, will get so much as a penny for her find has yet to be determined.

Officials say it appears the cross had been looted from a Polish art collection by the Nazis during the Second World War.

The Austria Press Agency quoted police official Christian Krieg as saying the woman found the cross after a hotel owner who lived in Zell am See died and his home was being cleared by relatives.

The woman showed the cross to the niece of the dead man, but the niece didn't want it and allowed the woman to take it, the news agency reported.

Last month, one of the woman's neighbours had an inkling the cross might be something special and took it to a local museum in the village of Leogang.

The curator, Hermann Mayrhofer, alerted police. An investigation disclosed that, until the Second World War, the cross had been part of an art collection belonging to Izabella Elzbieta of Czartoryski Dzialinska, Poland.

Before the outbreak of war, Elzbieta tried to hide the piece from the Nazis by concealing it in the cellar of a building in Warsaw. But the Nazis found it in 1941 and later brought it, along with other items from Elzbieta's collection, to a castle in Austria. It is unclear what happened next.

This summer, the cross was taken to Vienna for analysis but it has now been returned to the museum in Leo gang. Experts at Vienna's fine arts museum determined that it comes from Limoges, France, and dates to about 1200.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Mayrhofer said that he knew straight away that the cross came from Limoges and praised the woman for salvaging it.

"She did something extraordinary," Mayrhofer said.

But he said he couldn't comment on whether the woman would receive any money for her find.

A judge in Zell am See has decided that for now the cross should be kept in the museum security. Mayrhofer said it would soon be included in a special exhibit at the museum.

The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe is representing the heirs of the former owner of the cross, police said.


Cape Ann Auction said...

What an interesting article. I hope the old gal gets something for her trouble, after all, it would probably be gone forever if she hadn't found it.

You have a fun antiques blog, I'll be back and I hope someday you have a moment to check out my blog at where I do free online appraisals.

rob said...

Yes this is a good story.

I write Dumpdiggers which is about people looking for antiques in century old dumps here in Canada and in the USA.