A manuscript stolen from the German church of Quedlinburg at the end of World War II by American army officer Joe Meador has been returned to a German foundation official by a Swiss middleman, probably on behalf of the Meador heirs or their former attorney, John Torigian.

The announcement was made this week without elaboration by the church and the German Cultural Foundation of the States, whose director, Klaus Maurice, would say only that the book, known as the "Evangelier" manuscript (and valued at $3 million if it weren't stolen), was returned by "an anonymous benefactor" and turned over to him Oct. 1 in Geneva after "an anonymous tip." No money changed hands, according to the announcement. It also stated that no further details would be revealed because of litigation pending in the U.S. Federal Court in Dallas against defendants Jack Meador and Jane Cook, who inherited the book along with the rest of the Quedlinburg treasures from their brother, who died in 1980.

The 1513 manuscript, distinguished by its jeweled, silver cover with a standing figure of Christ in relief, was noticeably absent from the cache of Quedlinburg treasure discovered last summer in the Meador heirs' Texas bank vaults. It has since been eagerly sought both by representatives of the Quedlinburg church, who are suing for the complete treasure's return, and by the German Cultural Foundation of the States, whose mission it is to buy back art and manuscripts lost or stolen from German cultural institutions during World War II.

In a story in Wednesday's New York Times, Maurice offered no more information but spun out a description of his "benefactor" in colorful detail: "The gentleman was wearing a wonderful English tweed jacket, and he was about 10 years younger than myself and about 20 pounds lighter." Maurice added that he did say, "Thank you very much. You made a marvelous, happy end to a long story."

Maurice's Berlin office said he had left on a five-week vacation and could not be reached for further comment about who had returned the book, who had owned it and where it had been since it slipped into Swiss oblivion last June.

But the book did not arrive out of the blue. It had, in fact, been offered to Maurice for $500,000 last June by Torigian through a Bavarian dealer, Heribert Tenschert. The Cultural Foundation was on the verge of purchasing it when the news broke that the rest of the treasure had been found in Texas, and a restraining order was slapped on everything, including the book. It was Tenschert, 42, who had arranged in April the return to the foundation of the far more valuable Quedlinburg manuscript: the Carolingian Samuhel Gospels, also part of Meador's hoard.

The Samuhel deal was also made with Torigian, on behalf of the Meador heir, and it was agreed that he would be paid a "finder's fee" of $3 million in three installments, with checks made out to John Torigian, trustee. As it turned out, the Germans got a bargain: Doubtless because of the lawsuit, Torigian never picked up the third installment of $1.125 million, and Tenschert returned the money to the foundation.

"Now they have both manuscripts for $1.875 million," said Tenschert, who took no fee on either deal.

Reached in Rotthalmunster, Germany, Tenschert said he had nothing to do with the return of the second book, that his involvement with it ended last June or July, when Torigian called to ask that it be turned over to his representative in Geneva -- very likely the same Swiss gentleman who finally gave it to Maurice.

"To me," said Tenschert, "most aspects of this story seem like fairy tales. But I could easily imagine that the owners of the manuscript would want to just get rid of it.

"I think that those who were in possession of the book wanted it to go back to Germany, whoever it was, the heirs of Jack Meador or someone else. I just think that someone tried to make a happy ending to the story of the manuscript."

Tenschert may know even better than Maurice who the Swiss benefactor was, but said he would not reveal his name. "I told Maurice, and all those who asked me, that I would not name this middleman -- because he is a very fine, very serious man -- until I was forced by justice officials. It is a very old-fashioned way to behave, but I wouldn't do it any other way. I don't think that he is involved in it any more than just having established the contact and stored the book. I don't think that is sufficient reason to name him. Obviously, he didn't own it."

Then who did? Asked if it seemed likely that it was the Meador heirs, Tenschert replied, "To me, it seems not unreasonable to draw that conclusion. Whoever it was, it's hard to believe that the middleman took action without contact with the owners.

"I just hope that now the Meadors will be able to give the rest back, and everything will be settled as soon as possible, because I don't see that they have many alternatives. If they take the $1.875 million that I paid Mr. Torigian, that would still be a fine fee," said Tenschert.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, the new attorney for the Meador heirs, Randal Mathis, said the news of the book's return came as a surprise. "Mrs. Cook {Joe Meador's sister} read it in the paper and called me. We knew nothing about it," he said.

"But if the book has been turned over and that aspect of the case has been resolved, we are very happy," said Mathis. "The Germans had always said they wouldn't settle this case without knowing the whereabouts of the book. I think the situation has now taken a dramatic turn and I hope this will move a settlement forward."

The remainder of the Quedlinburg treasure sits in storage at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, pending either a settlement or the outcome of a trial.