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On trial: cathedral thief who hid codex in garage

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On trial: cathedral thief who hid codex in garage
A touchscreen shows a facsimile of the Codex Calixtinus at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.
16:44 CET+01:00
An electrician at the famous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is in court charged with stealing a priceless 12th century Codex Calixtinus, the first guidebook for pilgrims undertaking the famous religious pilgrimage to the northern Spanish city.

Manuel Fernández Castiñeiras admitted to stealing the priceless artefact in 2011 after investigators found the volume inside his garage, wrapped in a bin bag and surrounded by rubbish. 

But now his trial lawyers are arguing that he was coerced into confessing and that the investigating judge was not impartial, according to regional daily La Voz de Galicia.

The defence are also arguing that police acted illegally by beginning their search for the codex before they had the necessary permission, installing microphones in the suspect’s flat.

The valuable tome was kept in a cathedral safe under somewhat lax security, according to Spanish daily El País; there was only one security guard deployed at any one time due to reasons of costs, church authorities said.

The Codex Calixtinus contains advice for pilgrims undertaking the famous Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) as well as liturgies and reports on miracles performed by Saint James, and is thought to be the world’s first tourist guide.

The Codex was not the only surprise awaiting the investigators who searched the 60-year-old electrician’s home in mid 2012; they also discovered €1.7 million ($2 million) stashed away in the garage, along with $300,000 that they believe Fernández Castiñeiras had been stealing from the cathedral over the years.

Investigators knew there was an additional €600,000 somewhere, according to El País, because Fernández Castiñeiras had kept detailed records of everything he had taken from the cathedral, circling the amount he had taken each year (2004, 2005 and 2006) in red.

Fernández Castiñeiras, who worked at the cathedral for over 25 years, was in court on Monday accompanied by his wife and son, who are accused of money laundering and receiving stolen goods.

Fernández Castiñeiras is suspected to have carried out his stealing spree because of a firmly held grudge against the cathedral, which had dismissed him after he falsified a work document.

While the prosecution is asking for a 15 year sentence, the cathedral has demanded their former electrician should serve a 31 year sentence if found guilty. 

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