Yesterday I was checking my Twitter account and found a reference to the theft of the exquisite twelfth century manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus (better known to me as the Códice Calixtino) from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In a moment I was back thirty years to a golden afternoon when the acting archivist of the same cathedral entirely forgot about the English research student beavering away at her notes. He went off to lunch, and for nearly four hours there was just the Codex, the sunshine and me. When the canon finally returned, he had the Colombian Ambassador to Spain in tow, and it fell to me to explain some of the glories of the manuscript. Oh bliss, oh joy, oh rapture!
I daresay security at the archives is now much stricter than it was then (I don’t think I noticed any back in the seventies) but it was not good enough to prevent the theft. The manuscript can never be sold on the open market, it is too well-known; so presumably it was stolen to order, to satisfy the greed of some private ‘collector’. It was an act of pure selfishness which, at a stroke, has deprived the whole world of an irreplaceable treasure.
It is difficult to enter into the mindset of those who will do anything to satisfy their greed. Our heritage from the past is so vulnerable. I often used to think that Spaniards were remarkably casual about theirs, but in the seventies I don’t think I ever encountered one who was dishonest. It would have been a dishonour, and who is more jealous of his honour than a Spaniard? Let us pray that the manuscript will be returned unharmed, and even more, that the desire to possess at the expense of everyone and everything else may be eradicated. A fine sentiment, but unlikely to be realised soon, I fear.