In 2002, a gilded statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things, was stolen from a church in the Mexican city of Jiutepec. This week, the sculpture finally began its journey home after being found in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of San Angelo (SAMFA) in Texas.
The artwork, dated to the 19th century, was handed off on Wednesday to the Mexican Secretary of Culture, Alejandra Frausto, by the U.S. ambassador Ken Salazar at the Embassy of the United States in Mexico. Mexican authorities filed a formal request for its return with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which worked cooperatively with SAMFA to prepare the work for travel.
“Along with the FBI Art Crimes team, FBI Dallas appreciates the cooperation of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts in assisting in the safe return of the Saint Anthony of Padua sculpture to the Government of Mexico,” FBI Dallas Special Agent Charge Matthew J. DeSarno said in a statement. “The FBI has developed significant relationships with our foreign partners who are committed to the protection of cultural property.”
The figure of Saint Anthony, a real-life Doctor of the Church active during the 13th century, was carved in solid wood and painted over in gold, then scratched to reveal glimpses of yellow beneath. His thick Franciscan robes carry hints of blue, marking his esteemed stature.
“As we approach the celebration of 200 years of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States, we reaffirm our commitment to continue working with the authorities of the Government of Mexico to preserve and protect historical heritage that reflects a part of the greatness of Mexico and its people,” the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said in a statement.