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5 July 2011: The theft of the Codex Calixtinus

The dean of Santiago cathedral, José María Díaz, with a facsimile of the Codex in July 2011.
The dean of Santiago cathedral, José María Díaz, with a facsimile of the Codex in July 2011. / EFE
  • The ancient manuscript went missing from Santiago cathedral in strange circumstances and was thought to have been smuggled abroad

On 5 July 2011 the Codex Calixtinus, a priceless 12th century manuscript, went missing from the world-famous Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Galicia. The book, which had 225 pages and had been described as the world's first travel guide, was written to provide information for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, and was kept in a safe in the cathedral archives.

The theft was a massive news story in Spain and also aroused interest in the international media. It had all the makings of a good crime novel.

It was the cathedral archivists who discovered the Codex Calixtinus was missing, and they frantically searched for it for hours before informing the police. The subsequent investigation revealed that although there were several security cameras in the archives, none of them focused on the safe. This led to a public outcry about a lack of adequate security at the cathedral.

The book is so famous that it could never openly be sold, and the media speculated that this had been a daring robbery by professional thieves, commissioned by an international collector who wanted to keep it for himself or herself, and that it had undoubtedly been smuggled abroad before anyone realised it was missing.

Cathedral officials, however, said from the start that they believed this had been an inside job. Only three people had access to the Codex, and it was very rarely taken out of the safe, so very few people were even aware of its whereabouts. Researchers were only given a copy and did not see the original.

A year later the Codex Calixtinus was found, in the garage of a former worker at the cathedral, an electrician, who was suing for wrongful dismissal.

Police also discovered other ancient manuscripts and 1.7 million euros in cash, stolen from the cathedral over many years. He was sentenced to ten years in jail.