Medieval Manuscript Stolen from Santiago de Compostela

The Codex Calixtinus, a twelfth-century manuscript account of the transportation of Saint James’s body, was stolen from Santiago de Compostela this week. Someone broke into the cathedral archive’s safe and took the manuscript. The loss of the manuscript, which is considered an important early description of Europe, is tragic.

The Guardian reports on the theft of the Codex Calixtinus. [Thanks to art historian Rainbow Porthé for this link.]

Archives, museums, and private collections are frequently targeted for commissioned thefts of priceless manuscripts and art objects. Presumably this was the case with this manuscript theft.

Manuscript heists represent a serious threat to historical research, which depends historians having access to original manuscripts in the course of  their work. The loss or removal into private hands of manuscripts by theft prevents historical research on those manuscripts.  In many countries, budget cuts and poor facilities threaten the security of entire archival collections. The chilling effect of thefts on research is magnified by archivists’ fears of robberies, which lead them to restrict access to their existing manuscript collections. Historians and many scholars in art history, architectural history, music history, literary history, theater history, history of philosophy, political theory, religious studies, and cultural studies depend on being able to use manuscript collections in their research.

Professors and graduate students in history and related humanities fields need to be aware of the threats to manuscript collections worldwide and advocate for measures to ensure the protection of historical materials and world heritage. For more information about how to help conserve the documentary world heritage, see UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program.

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