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Cyprus Church thanks Boy George for icon's return

Cyprus' Orthodox Christian Church on Thursday thanked former Culture Club singer Boy George for returning an icon of Christ that it says was stolen from a church in the breakaway north of the divided island.

Boy George agreed to return the 18th century icon he bought from a London art dealer in 1985 after being presented with proof of its true origin, the church said in a statement posted on its Web site.

"Before this, I had no idea who Boy George was," Brussels-based Bishop Porfyrios who led efforts for the icon's recovery told The Associated Press. "He was positive about returning the icon."

The church said it was alerted about the icon's whereabouts by an informer who saw the singer with it on a Dutch TV show last November.

Boy George, who said he was unaware of the icon's history when he bought it, personally handed the icon over to Bishop Porfyrios in London on Tuesday. In return, the bishop gave him a modern icon of Christ as a token of gratitude and "with the wish that others soon follow his example."

The church statement said Boy George expressed hope that the icon would soon be returned to the church of Saint Charalambos in the village of Neo Chorio Kythreas from where it was taken. The icon is now in Brussels and will return to the island later.

The church says scores of religious artifacts, including icons and mosaics, were looted from Greek Cypriot churches in the Turkish Cypriot north after Turkey's 1974 invasion, which followed a failed coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Many have since appeared on the international art market and the Cyprus Church has been actively seeking to repatriate them. Its biggest success was the recovery of several priceless 6th century mosaics.

The Church filed a lawsuit against Turkey in a European court in 2009 for allegedly preventing worship at religious sites in the north.

Christianity in Cyprus stretches to the faith's earliest years. The Apostle Paul is said to have preached the gospel in Cyprus in A.D. 45 and converted the island's Roman governor Sergius Paulus — the first Roman official to undergo conversion.

(This version corrects day of icon's return.)