Two shoe-box-size containers of disputed medieval art treasures, said to belong to the Lutheran church of Quedlinburg, East Germany, will be transferred to the Dallas Museum of Art for "temporary neutral safe haven," in accord with an agreement signed yesterday.
The treasure, which was allegedly pilfered from its hiding place in a mine shaft near Quedlinburg at the close of World War II, includes a variety of small but priceless religious objects, mostly reliquaries, in gold, silver, ivory and crystal, dating from the 8th to the 14th centuries. A lawsuit filed in June by the church alleges that the objects were taken by U.S. Army officer Joe T. Meador.
Meador died in 1980, and his estate passed to his brother, Jack Meador of Whitewright, Tex., and a sister, Jane Meador Cook, of Mesquite, Tex. So far, both have maintained that the objects belong to them.
The items were tracked to Whitewright last spring by German researcher and stolen-art expert Willi Korte, of Silver Spring, Md., and Munich. Korte picked up the trail after the most valuable object from the hoard -- a sumptuous 9th-century illuminated Carolingian manuscript of the Four Gospels, known as the Samuhel-Evangeliar -- was sold in Switzerland to a West German foundation for a $3 million "finder's fee" by someone representing "anonymous" sellers, and with the understanding that their names would not be revealed.
In June, when a second Quedlinburg manuscript was offered through the same channels, this time for a $500,000 finder's fee, Korte, on behalf of the church, filed the lawsuit against the Meador heirs for return of all the Quedlinburg objects. A restraining order forbidding movement or sale of any of the items in question was also obtained.
To date, neither the second manuscript nor the $3 million paid for the first has turned up.
Also not to be found is John S. Torigian, a Houston attorney who has been confirmed by two sources in Germany as the man who represented the "anonymous" sellers in the manuscript deals. Torigian, who had represented the Meador family since the mid-'80s, suddenly dropped out of the case early this month. He was scheduled twice to give depositions on the case, but he could not be found, according to Pat Longan, one of the attorneys with Andrews & Kurth, the firm representing the church.
"We were never able to serve him with his subpoena," said Longan. "Our process server was never able to find him. His partner has informed us that he is in Africa."
According to Torigian's office, the African trip had been planned for some time and Torigian is not expected to return until September.
Meanwhile, the items are scheduled to be moved next week, Longan said. Soon thereafter, Dietrich Kotzsche, a specialist in medieval decorative art from the State Museum of West Berlin, is expected to travel to Dallas to inspect the objects, which have not been available for examination by experts until now.
It is also possible that the items will be shown at the Dallas Museum, along with the rest of the Quedlinburg treasure, after a settlement is reached.
Meanwhile, Emily Sano, the museum's deputy director, worn out from negotiations over the movement, storage and insuring of the two boxes, said yesterday, "I don't have that much curiosity about it; what I'd like to do is get this over with and get back to real work."
"We cannot show any of it during the lawsuit," Sano said. "But the church has stated that if they win, they would be pleased to show it after conservation has been done, and the Meador family has always said they would be happy to show it.
"But somebody has to win first."