MADRID — A priceless 12th century guide to Spain's Way of Saint James pilgrimage has been stolen from a safe at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Church and government officials said Thursday.
The Codex Calixtinus, one of the Western world's first 'guidebooks', is only shown to the public on special occasions such as Pope Benedict XVI's visit last November to the northwestern Spanish city.
A cathedral archivist noticed it had vanished on Tuesday evening, the cathedral's dean, Jose Maria Diaz, told a news conference.
Diaz said he called police after carrying out a "very detailed search" with the archivist for the illuminated manuscript, which contains a collection of texts including sermons, homilies to Saint James, Spain's patron saint, and practical travel advice to pilgrims.
The dean said there was no sign of a break-in and only three people had access to the safe -- himself and two archivists.
"The person who took it knew what they were doing and how to reach it," Diaz said. "We feel like we have suffered a huge blow."
The 225-page manuscript was rarely removed from the safe, which contained other important historical documents, and had never left Santiago de Compostela.
A replica is enclosed in a glass case and displayed to tourists inside the cathedral located in the cobblestone old quarter of the city in northwestern Spain.
Police have interviewed all three people with access to the safe and are reviewing security camera footage.
Local daily El Correo Gallego said none of the five security cameras used to watch the archive area were pointing directly at the safe where the manuscript was stored.
It called its disappearance "the theft of the century".
The manuscript is thought to have been commissioned by Pope Callixtus II, who encouraged pilgrimages and decided in 1122 that every year that Saint James' Day of July 25 falls on a Sunday should be considered a holy year.
It includes the story of how the body of Saint James the Apostle was supposedly transported from Judea on a raft without oars or sails to northwestern Spain.
"The document was in very good shape, it was perfect in terms of its conservation," Carlos Villanueva, a professor at the art history department of the University of Santiago de Compostela who has studied the manuscript since the mid-1970s and has had access to it, told AFP.
"It is a document that has been inside the cathedral for many years. The change in humidity, temperature and atmospheric pressure could affect it."
The cathedral's dean said the manuscript was not insured. In 1990 an insurance company demanded one billion pesetas, the equivalent of six million euros, to insure the document, he added.
"It is not uncommon for international experts to dedicate themselves to this type of thefts. I believe the police will be able to find this document," said Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde.
The councillor for culture in Santiago's city hall, Angel Curras, said "Santiago has to recover it because it is the jewel of the cathedral and of the city".
A hermit claimed to have discovered the remains of Saint James, later to be known as the Slayer of the Moors, in 813.
They became a symbol to rally Christian Spain, then pinned down by the Muslim Moors to the northern strip of the peninsula.
The remains are held in a tomb within the cathedral, the destination for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year.
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