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Iter pro peregrinis ad Compo-stolen!
July 11, 2011 2:39 AM   Subscribe

Spanish police are investigating the disappearance of the Codex Calixtinus, a valuable 12th century manuscript [PDFs], from the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Galicia. The manuscript is a collection of sermons and liturgical texts and served as a guide for the historical Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which dates back to the Middle Ages. More images of the book here [Spanish].
posted by chavenet (23 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suspect Dan Brown.
posted by item at 3:29 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect Carmen Sandiego.
posted by alexei at 3:35 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Book V, Chapter VI, "The Good and Bad Rivers on the Camino":
The horses die at Rio Salada

At a place called Lorca, to the east, flows the river known as the Salt Stream.

Be careful not to drink it or water your horse there, because the river is lethal. On its banks, as we were going to Santiago, we found two Navarrese sitting there, sharpening their knives, waiting to skin the horses of pilgrims which die after drinking the water.

When we asked, they lied and said the water was safe to drink. So we watered our horses, and two died at once, which the men then skinned.
posted by pracowity at 3:37 AM on July 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I suspect assholes.

And I swear to fucking god, if the thieves think they can chop up the pages and they won't be recognized, they are not only sorely mistaken, but they'll be due the same treatment for themselves when they're finally caught. Unless the theft was commissioned by a private collector, in which case, see first theory.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:55 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where's Agent Bay when you need him?
posted by dragoon at 4:10 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I swear to fucking god, if the thieves think they can chop up the pages and they won't be recognized, they are not only sorely mistaken, but they'll be due the same treatment for themselves when they're finally caught.

Rip, mix, and burn? Isn't this a bit harsh Civil_Disobedient? it was only a copy. The original author should have no problem to produce another one.
posted by three blind mice at 4:13 AM on July 11, 2011


Have they checked the haystacks and benches in the local vicinity?
posted by fullerine at 4:43 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lucas Corso will be (reluctantly) on the case, as soon as Mr. Depp gets out of the way.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:57 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know the details of the security arrangement at the cathedral, but it sure looks like that thing should have been in a national bank's vault, not in the cathedral. Someone at Interpol ought to do a risk assessment of cultural treasures like that, identify which of those have (from a thief's perspective) high value and low risk, and try to talk sense into the most careless caretakers. Twist their arms if necessary. One weak link -- such as trusting a succession of church employees over the years never to fail procedurally or morally -- and a valuable, portable item is eventually going to disappear.
posted by pracowity at 4:57 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


pracowity, you make a compelling case for keeping religion around, at the very least so as to provide us with anecdotes of such quality.
posted by 7segment at 5:20 AM on July 11, 2011


don't know the details of the security arrangement at the cathedral, but it sure looks like that thing should have been in a national bank's vault, not in the cathedral.

Wouldn't this same argument apply to all sorts of work of art that now hang on gallery walls? Art is stolen from galleries, including major works in fancy galleries with fancy security systems. Is there a particular reason why a cathedral is not trusted with a important cultural artifact, but the Louvre is?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2011


I don't know the details of the security arrangement at the cathedral, but it sure looks like that thing should have been in a national bank's vault, not in the cathedral.

Well, I know someone who once transported a similarly priceless and world-famous illuminated manuscript in a duffel bag. It was several decades ago, but still...

The thing is, such manuscripts rarely have a high value from a thief's perspective. The circle of potential buyers (villainous millionaire bibliophiles) is simply too small (vanishing, even) to easily fence such stolen goods. And making it completely inaccessible pretty much defeats the purpose of conserving it in the first place.

Yes, the church authorities possibly were careless in this case. But the Catholic church oversees such a huge amount of antiquities of enormous value throughout Western Europe that it can hardly keep them all safe (especially as it really isn't its first priority). Just in the same Cathedral of Santiago you probably have at least a dozen pieces at least as valuable as this Codex. And if you took them all away, it would no longer be the same cathedral. A compromise has to be found between security and preservation of the cultural heritage, which also involves keeping such masterpieces in their original setting.
posted by Skeptic at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2011


Rip, mix, and burn? Isn't this a bit harsh Civil_Disobedient? it was only a copy. The original author should have no problem to produce another one.

This is actually a pretty good example of the difference between theft and 'piracy'. If they had just made a copy, they'd merely have been making it more accessible to the rest of the world. Theft is the opposite.
posted by empath at 6:15 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


As it happened, I was looking at the Sequentia album of songs from the Codex Calixtinus on Amazon this weekend. I hope they get the manuscript back without it being damaged.

I also really hate the idea that historical treasures and art should be locked up in vaults. For all that I hate it when they're stolen, I hate the idea that only srs bzns historians should have access to them under limited circumstances even more.
posted by immlass at 6:25 AM on July 11, 2011


And if you took them all away, it would no longer be the same cathedral.

If you're talking about pieces of art on display, yes, a cathedral without art is an aircraft hangar, so you have to protect the art in place (or possibly put up copies of certain pieces) or abandon the idea of the place.

But a document in a locked box is invisible and inaccessible to the visitor.
posted by pracowity at 6:30 AM on July 11, 2011


I always wonder about these things like... What's the point?

Are there really that many greedy rich selfish fuckers who just want to own something that no-one else can ever know they own? Like some dark deep hidden status symbol that only they know but they can feel superior about?

I can dig owning a Bugatti Veyron, or a rare transcript bought in an auction of some kind. But stealing shit and not being able to SAY you own it is... I mean, from the point of a rich person trying own something (as opposed to say, a reproduction) seems quite strange.
posted by symbioid at 7:14 AM on July 11, 2011


Hm. Interesting to hear this mentioned. A few years ago, I was working on a project to bring numerous pieces of art, scripture, and manuscript relating to the Camino de Santiago online and to the public.

Although we got the technical side of things set up, the data acquisition and categorization effort proved to be too expensive and labor-intensive, and we were never able to get enough funding or volunteers to adequately get the project off of the ground.

(I did scan about 15,000 slides though. It's almost a pity that we were never able to sort out the copyright issues and got those online)

Sigh. There are so many things I'd have done differently about that project now. Preserving art for posterity is hard work, especially when there's a lot of it!
posted by schmod at 7:50 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only full color copy sits in a Dutch church and is being supplied with extra protection.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:06 AM on July 11, 2011


"But stealing shit and not being able to SAY you own it is... I mean, from the point of a rich person trying own something (as opposed to say, a reproduction) seems quite strange."

Exactly. Think about that, and now you have some insight into the "win at any cost" mentality that society rewards.

When my kids were in pre-school, they used to gather around for songs and stories at "circle time". There was had a stack of square carpet samples, each kid would take one and stake out a place for circle time. There was only one green carpet square, and the kids would fight bitterly over it. It provided many teachable moments.
posted by Xoebe at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doh. "There was had a stack of "
posted by Xoebe at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2011


I am also fascinated by the mentality of these "collectors." Here is something beautiful or amazing, that anyone could go and see. In fact, someone with the resources that these people have could go first class, view the manuscript, and spend a very nice time staying in the best accommodations, dining out, visiting other sights in the area, etc. (in fact, much like a wealthy medieval pilgrim going to, oh let's say, Compostela).

Instead, they would rather hire people to steal the thing (possibly at greater expense), just so they alone can have it? It really is the equivalent of a three-year-old grabbing something and shouting "MINE!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:50 AM on July 11, 2011


Many thieves are just opportunistic and shortsighted -- if they see something worth a million dollars hanging on a nail near an open door, they will grab it and run without planning exactly how they might ever get any money for it.

But people also do bad shit for the thrill of doing bad shit. Anyone can have sex, but rapists rape. There must be collectors who buy stolen items because they are stolen, forbidden, otherwise unobtainable. They might like reading the news about how important the stolen pieces are (and, by extension, how important the thief is) and get a thrill from the chase.
posted by pracowity at 11:12 AM on July 11, 2011


To this reasoned analysis of motives and methods, I would like to add, as a former medievalist and music historian: HOLY SHIT. This is an immensely important document for a whole slew of reasons, but it's also heartbreaking because you know someone's going to be razoring these pages and selling them off at the Marché aux Puces in Paris or something in a week or so. GRAR.
posted by LMGM at 1:26 PM on July 11, 2011


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