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Art detective recovers Precious Blood relic stolen from France in June

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J-P Mauro - published on 07/13/22

It is estimated that only 7% - 8% of stolen art and artifacts are returned, making this a monumental recovery.

In extremely rare circumstances, a medieval relic stolen from a French abbey has been recovered and will soon be returned. The credit for making contact with the thieves and convincing them to hand over the relic and reliquary goes to Dutch art detective Arthur Brand, who shared the news on his Twitter account

The relic

The relic in question is the Précieux Sang, or Precious Blood, which is said to be a sample of the blood of Jesus Christ. As the medieval legend goes, Joseph of Arimathea collected some of Christ’s blood after he removed Jesus from the cross, with some accounts holding that Joseph used the Holy Grail as a receptacle. The artifact is a phial of blood that is encased in a glass-fronted gold cylinder, both housed within a reliquary that resembles an old-fashioned church-shaped golden tabernacle. 

The relic has been housed within the Basilica of the Holy Blood since at least the 13th century, and has been an object of veneration ever since. In fact, the relic became so popular that Pope Clement V issued a papal bull in 1310 that granted indulgences to pilgrims who visited the chapel. It is worth noting, however, that there is no reference in Scripture of Christ’s blood being preserved. There is currently no definitive evidence for or against the authenticity of the relic of the Precious Blood. 

Theft

The relic was stolen from the basilica on the night of June 1, 2022. Brand said that he suspected that the thief hid in the basilica until it was closed and then came out to pilfer the sanctuary.He told the NL Times that the thief passed the relic to a second party, who confided with a friend that the relic was in their house. This friend is the one who eventually contacted Brand. 

“Having the holiest of holies in the house is kind of a curse. They considered bringing it back to the abbey, but there were cameras there. Another option was to destroy it. I said: put it in front of my door. They had explicit permission from the thief to return it,” Brand explained in an interview with the NL Times. 

Days later, Brand’s doorbell rang and by the time he got to the door, all that was there was a small parcel placed on his stoop. He opened the box to find the golden reliquary, with the relic safely contained within.Daily Sabah notes that along with the reliquary, several copper liturgical plates, depictions of saints, and an ornate goblet also stolen from the abbey in June were within the box. The relic and artifacts recovered from the thieves can be seen in the video, featured above.

Rare return

Brand noted that he does not believe it would be possible to forge a Catholic relic within three weeks and is positive that it is the same that was stolen in June. Furthermore, he went on to explain just how rare it is to have such a stolen item returned. It is estimated that 7% – 8% of stolen art is ever returned, with many items being destroyed if they’re too hot to sell. Brand said: 

“I am Catholic myself. For over a thousand years, people prayed over this. They prayed that their son would come back from a crusade and that their daughter would be cured of the plague. Miracles are attributed to this. Finding a Picasso is nice, but this means so much more to hundreds of millions of people. It transcends the artistic.”

Investigation

The relic is currently in the possession of Dutch police pending an investigation of the theft. They will now analyze the items for trace evidence, including hairs and fingerprints. These, however, may not point to any particular suspect, as the relic has been touched by countless hands since the 13th century. It is also likely that the thieves wiped the objects down to remove this evidence. 

Once the investigation is concluded, the police said they will quickly return it to the French basilica, where it is expected to go on display once more. However, it is possible that the basilica will set up more security around the prized relic in the future. 

Read more at the NL Times.

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