Spanish police are investigating the disappearance of the Codex Calixtinus, a valuable 12th century manuscript, from the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in northwestern region of Galicia, a spokesman said on Thursday. 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.
The elaborately illustrated document disappeared from a safe deposit box in the cathedral last week. Its suspected theft, only reported to police on Wednesday, is considered a major loss for Spain’s cultural and religious heritage.
Santiago Cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint James the Greater, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ who according to legend arrived in Spain to preach Christianity. Another version of the story says the remains of St James – Santiago is Spanish for St James – were brought to Spain by two of his followers after he was beheaded in Jerusalem in AD 42.
The tomb was lost or kept secret for centuries until 813 when it was rediscovered by a bishop who was guided to the spot by a star. In the 11th century, work started on the cathedral whose ornate baroque towers, an 18th century addition visible from miles away, guide pilgrims towards their destination.
The medieval centre of Santiago teems with hundreds of pilgrims, instantly recognisable by their bulging backpacks, muddy hiking boots and wooden walking sticks adorned with the distinctive scallop shells that symbolise the pilgrimage. Some particularly fervent groups wear brown capes and floppy hats like the ones worn by Saint James in many statues and paintings. They carry banners bearing the apostle’s special sword-shaped red cross and sing religious songs as they walk.