Earlier this month, the Spanish government asked Britain to suspend the sale of the beams of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which are to be sold on April 4 at Christie’s.
The beams are to be part of an Islamic Art and Manuscripts sale that includes artefacts going back to the eighth century.
Father Manuel Nieto Cumplido, the building’s archivist and a legal representative, “will hold talks with representatives of Christie’s”, the church body that manages the monument said on Thursday.
Earlier in the month, when news of Christie’s plans to sell the beams broke, the Spanish Culture Ministry contacted the Spanish police, as well as Interpol, to look into how and when the beams were removed from Spain, whether they were authentic and whether their export was legal.
The ministry had contacted Christie’s to try to determine how the beams left Spain and also had been in touch with the British Embassy to ask for help, an official had said.
Two Spanish representatives were dispatched and are checking the beams, which are believed to date from second half of the 10th century – and if the need arises, to “see if there are legal ways to prevent the sale,” a Church spokesman said.
“For the moment we are not in a position to say much, for or against. At first glance the documentation produced by Christie’s does not seem open to argument”
“We are prudent,” he said. “For the moment we are not in a position to say much, for or against. At first glance the documentation produced by Christie’s does not seem open to argument.”
The Umayyad Andalusian beams from the former Great Mosque, converted into a cathedral after the capture of the Muslim-ruled city by Ferdinand III in 1236, are a major highlight of the sale, and each is set to sell for up to $160,000, according to Christie’s.
Highly decorated, with trefoil and diamond designs, “their condition is remarkably well-preserved”, Christie’s said in a statement.
The auction house said two of the beams retained their original polychrome decoration from the late 10th century, unlike the remainder of the originals, which were restored over the past century.
Spain’s Culture Ministry called on the police to assess, via Interpol, the “legal situation” of the beams and ascertain how they came to be in private hands.
Christie’s has said it plans to go
The name of the current owner has not been divulged. Christie’s said in a statement that it was “satisfied with the provenance given to us by the consignor in relation to the beams. We are working with the Spanish authorities in order to clarify certain issues.”
Awaiting the results of the police investigations, the ministry called on the British authorities to “suspend the sale ahead of the end of the enquiry”, basing its request on 1985 legislation governing its responsibility for Spanish national heritage.
The legislation states that “all goods more than 100 years old which leave Spanish territory must have an export licence”.
The cathedral authorities said on Thursday that there would have to be a study before any legal action was undertaken. Lawyers from the two sides met on Wednesday in London but were unable to reach agreement, and Christie’s is going ahead with the sale.
The Great Mosque, built on a Visigoth-era site but believed also to be on the site of an earlier Roman temple, has emblematic architectural status in Spain.
Five centuries after the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the cathedral maintains the superlative forest of columns from the old Muslim prayer room.