Codex Calixtinus Stolen from Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Codex Calixtinus Page
A copy of one page of the Codex Calixtinus.

Codex Calixtinus Stolen from Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The keys were left in the strongbox where the priceless book was held. It was uninsured. The cathedral archivists didn’t notice the theft for days.
El País: Desaparece el Códice Calixtino de la Catedral de Santiago
Jesús Duva and María Pampín reporting from Madrid and Santiago, respectively, July 7, 2011

The Codex Calixtinus, a priceless 12th century book, has disappeared from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. If not found, it would be one of the gravest thefts of historic and artistic heritage in the history of Spain. The absence of the codex, which was held in a strongbox in the archive, was discovered Tuesday afternoon, but the theft had occurred the previous week, according to police sources. The piece was not insured, Dean José María Díaz told the press, and she does not know if the cathedral’s general insurance plan will cover the loss of the book.

The Codex Calixtinus was guarded in a room that was “continuously accessed”, along with the other “most valuable” volumes, by two researchers of the cathedral archive who regularly consulted them. Only those two and the dean, José María Díaz, could freely enter the room and see the priceless – and uninsured – codex. Díaz confirmed this morning in a press conference that the collection of parchments does not have its own insurance plan, and although there is a general one for the cathedral, he doesn’t know if it would cover the theft of such a valuable item. The organization running the Ages of Man exhibition in Burgos (Spain) in 1990 requested that the codex be displayed there with other religious art; an ad hoc insurance claim valued the book at 1 billion pesetas (10 million dollars). The volume, “which has never been taken to a research room,” has only left the cathedral twice, for exhibitions, the last in 1993 for only two days, after which a fascimile was substituted for it.

“Following the recommendation of the police,” the dean does not wish to clarify anything about the security of the room where the document was held, although he has confirmed it was not forced open: the press was informed the morning he spoke that the keys were found inside the strongbox lock. Díaz said that at the end of Tuesday, one of the researchers “noticed the codex was missing” and informed the dean. “Four of us searched to make sure it wasn’t in the strongbox or in any of the adjacent rooms,” he explained. After that, he informed the police, who came to the cathedral at 10 PM. The criminal case was formally opened yesterday afternoon. “The chapter has become the victim of a robbery and a tremendous crime,” it read in part.

The dean does not want to verbalize his suspicions about the author of the crime: “if I know, I won’t say it, and if I suspect anyone, I won’t say it, primarily because it is a sin to make rash accusations. I might formulate judgment internally but I would never express it. The one who took it knows what he has done. He knows how valuable it was and how to get to it.” “The chapter has been able to conserve it for 800 years. We feel like we are the victims of a tremendous assault,” he concluded.

The few people who had access to the room have already been interrogated by the police, but none of them are suspects for now. Although access to the room was quite restrictive, control of the keys was “quite lax”, making it possible that someone intruded the premises, took the keys, and opened the treasure chest without difficulty.

The theft (it cannot be called a robbery because there was no force or violence involved) occurred last week. It was not noticed until Tuesday. At first, the disconcerted archivists thought that the first and most celebrated guide for pilgrims had been misplaced. They searched everywhere and didn’t find a trace of it. Afterward they informed the police, who started the search, and they did not make a criminal denunciation to the commisar of Santiago de Compostela until yesterday.

“The best case scenario is that the codex is in the hands of someone who knows its priceless value because then we can be sure it won’t be mistreated,” a chief of police said. The Chief Superior of the Galician Police has disposed “all tools deemed necessary” to recuperate the text, and today two investigators of the Central Brigade of Historical Patrimony join the search.

Specialists cited by El Correo Gallego believe the thieves could be an organized band acting on orders of a collector. The Cadena SER’s sources in the investigation think that the collector has already met them outside of Spain. The delegate of the Government of Galicia, Miguel Cortizo, has told the press he has activated the European protocols to control the markets that traffic works of this kind.

The First Pilgrimage Guide
Composed of five books and two appendices, assembled in a single tome since 1964, the codex, which was made to propagate devotion to the apostle St. James the Greater (“Santiago” in Spanish), was a sort of tourist guide that directed pilgrims to the city and contained advice, lodging information, and descriptions of the route, works of art, local customs, and peoples living along the path. It also contains rich illustrations and 22 polyphonic songs which are among the oldest of their kind in Europe. The complete work is 30×21 cm and has 225 parchment folios (pages).

In recent years, the security around the codex has been increased. The zone is dotted with alarms and countermeasures, but not all the action inside the rooms is recorded. In addition, according to this paper, there are five security cameras, but none of them are focused on the book. Apart from the original, which has disappeared, there is an exact replica which accredited specialists work with and which visitors can see in the Cathedral Museum. The original is only displayed on grand occasions. The last time, according to La Voz de Galicia, was two months ago during a personal visit by the Minister of Culture.

The dean, José María Díaz, yesterday informed the Cathedral Chapter and the archbishop, Monsignor Julián Barrio, of the disappearance of the codex, patronized in good part by Pope Calixtus II (hence the name), whose original Latin words were translated into Galician last year.

Explore posts in the same categories: Religion, Spain, Translations

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