Back to square one on return of Goryeo relics from Boston museum

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, once again agreed to return only the sarira from the 13th century silver-gilt Lamaistic pagoda-shaped sarira reliquary to Korea, according to Hyemun, a former Buddhist monk and the leader of a non-profit civic group dedicated to repatriating cultural heritage, Wednesday.

The decision comes more than a decade after previous talks fell through, after the same offer was made in 2009.

The civic group announced Wednesday that it had met with Julia McCarthy, interim head of collections management, and Christina Yu Yu, chief of curatorial affairs and conservation, to discuss the return of the sarira to Korea on Tuesday. The museum agreed to the request under the condition that the Korean government approves, according to the group.

Hyemun said the return of the sarira is now contingent on the Korean government's final decision, as the museum has committed to proceeding once the two sides reach a consensus.

The meeting lasted approximately an hour, during which Hyemun had the opportunity to view the artifact, which was brought out from the exhibition for the meeting.

"While the reliquary is significant as a cultural heritage, the sarira is a religious and sacred object," Hyemun told The Korea Herald on Wednesday after the meeting with the museum."This (the sarira) is of great importance to the Buddhist community, whether or not the complete piece is more significant as a cultural heritage artifact," he said.