Police appeal after thieves attempt to steal Sigmund Freud’s ashes from Golders Green Crematorium

15:43 14 January 2014

The 3rd century BCE Greek urn the held the ashes of Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha

The 3rd century BCE Greek urn the held the ashes of Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha


An “irreplaceable” urn containing the ashes of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud has been left severely damaged in a botched attempt to steal his last remains.

In an act described by police as “despicable”, burglars broke into Golders Green Crematorium in Hoop Lane between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a raid that left the vessel in pieces.

The valuable Greek 4th century artefact – given as a present to Freud by long-time friend Princess Marie Bonaparte – also contained the ashes of his wife, Martha.

The chairman of the Freud Museum, in Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, speaking as a representative for the Freud family, said news of the damage had brought them “great sadness”.

Lisa Appignanesi said: “The ancient Greek urn is irreplaceable. It had been in his study for many years in Vienna, before the Nazi occupation forced the family exodus to England, to which he came, as he said, ‘to die in freedom’.”

Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, was cremated three days after his death at the age of 83, on September 23, 1939.

The acclaimed thinker was a passionate – even obsessive – art collector of Roman, Greek, Near East and Egyptian antiquities.

The hobby started after the death of his own father when he was 40-years-old, and led to a collection of some 2,000 pieces.

With prized artefacts dotted around his study and library, it allowed him to effectively work in his own museum, providing another worldly environment for himself and patients.

With many of the pieces holding personal relevance to Freud and his work, curators at the museum said it was “fitting” that Freud’s family chose to store his ashes in one of his own vases.

The now-damaged ancient artefact depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of winemaking and ritual madness, and a maenad, a female follower of Dionysus, literally translated as “the raving one”.

It was given to him by Marie Bonaparte, a French author, fellow psychoanalyst and great-grandniece of Napoleon Bonaparte I of France.

Placed on a plinth designed by Austrian architect – and Freud’s son – Ernst, the urn was put on display to the public.

But its future now remains in doubt as workers at the site – where Freud’s daughter Anna was also cremated – revealed they had been forced to “review their security” following the break-in.

“It has now been moved to a “secure area” while an investigation is under way.

Det Con Daniel Candler called the attempted burglary “a despicable act by a callous thief”.

He said: “Even leaving aside the financial value of the irreplaceable urn and the historical significance of to whom it related, the fact that someone set out to take an object knowing it contained the last remains of a person defies belief.”

n Anyone with any information is asked to call police on 020 8733 4525 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.


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