The Codex Calixtinus, a priceless 12th-century book, has vanished from the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in what appears to be one of the most important robberies of Spanish historical and artistic heritage. The disappearance of the codex, which was kept in the archive's safe, was discovered on Tuesday afternoon, although the theft took place last week, according to police sources.
Cathedral Dean José María Díaz said the codex is not itself insured and it is unclear if the theft falls under the building's general insurance. The keys to the safe were found in the lock, ruling out forcible entry. It was stored in a place to which only Díaz and two cathedral investigators had unlimited access. Police questioned them and confirmed they are not under suspicion.
"The best thing that could happen is that the person who now has the book is aware of its value so we can be sure it won't be mistreated"
In recent years, security measures were meant to have been improved to protect the codex. An alarm and fire-prevention system was installed, plus five security cameras. But none were trained on the safe. However, surveillance of the keys was said to be "very lax," which suggests an intruder could have accessed them.
The work comprised five books and two appendices and was only shown on special occasions, such as Pope Benedict XVI's visit last November.
As well as a major source of historical information, the codex is considered one of the first guidebooks to the Way of St James pilgrimage, and includes practical advice for pilgrims, descriptions of the route and of the local customs, and a set of polyphonic musical pieces. The work comprised five books and two appendices, and was created with the aim of spreading devotion to St James. It was only shown on special occasions, such as Pope Benedict XVI's visit last November or during a recent meeting with Culture Ministry officials.
"This piece is irreplaceable and priceless," said medievalist scholar Juan Manuel Díaz de Bustamante. "It is not the first Codex Calixtinus, but it is the oldest and best conserved one."
That explains why experts are not only worried about the theft in itself, but also about the state of the historical document: a change in light and humidity conditions, or inadequate handling might alter the color-rich illustrations and cause the pages to come loose. "The best thing that could happen is that the person who now has the book is aware of the priceless value of this codex, because then we can be sure that it won't be mistreated", a high-ranking police officer said.