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Villagers accuse priest of stealing Virgin statue

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Villagers accuse priest of stealing Virgin statue
Villagers must now pray that police can determine if the statue has been repaired or replaced. Stock photo: Flickr/Benjamin
10:57 CEST+02:00
Residents of the tiny village of Pontenova in the north-west of Spain have refused to carry a statue of the Virgin Mary in the traditional annual parade because they claim that a local parish priest has swapped the original for a fake copy and pocketed all the decorative jewels.

The Civil Guard had to become involved when the scandal first broke last week in the 3,910-inhabitant rural village in Galicia. Some 200 residents filed a joint complaint that the priest of the nearby parish of Riotorto, Antonio Rúa, had replaced a 15th Century statue of the Virgin of Comfort with a fake copy.

The 'new' statue is around 40cm tall like the original but, according to the villagers, is dressed in different clothes which lack the jewels and donated decorations that had been added over the years.

"I come here every year, and that virgin is not the same one," one parishioner told Spanish TV channel La Sexta. "They're completely different," said another.

Rúa, however, claimed that the statue had merely been repaired. He said that he told his colleague, the local priest of Pontenova, that he had found it broken and offered to glue it back together.

"It was mutilated," he said. "I took charge of the work myself because I have a degree in Art History and I have studied restoration, although this was not a restoration."

The original baby Jesus, he said, had been put back in place meaning that the virgin required new robes as the old ones no longer fitted.

He told reporters, "It now has blue eyes, because I myself took a paintbrush and oil and painted the irises brown."  

The statue was gone from its habitual place for two days and when it returned the sacristan of the church went to villagers with his suspicions.

Rúa gave his version of events to churchgoers after mass but many apparently did not believe Rúa's version of events. Incidents after the meeting led Rúa to report a group of local residents to the Civil Guard for aggressive behaviour.

Villagers then refused to carry the 'new' statue in the village parade and it will now remain on the altar until at least next year.

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