Dutch art detective recovers one of Catholic Church's "oldest and holiest" relics
Update 12:48 p.m. - Article updated to add comment from in the last two paragraphs.
Art detective Arthur Brand said someone delivered an ancient relic to him last week after it was stolen in France last month. On Twitter, he described the relic as “one of the oldest and holiest relics of the Catholic Church.” The thief probably felt remorse after stealing it, Brand said after a report by the Telegraaf.
The artwork is called Précieux Sang, French for Precious Blood. It consists of a golden chest, also called a reliquary, with two containers inside it. Catholics believe the containers hold the blood of Jesus Christ, put there by Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion. In France, the relic has been venerated for about a thousand years.
The reliquary was stolen from an abbey in the town of Fecamp on the Channel during the night from June 1 to 2. It had been missing since then. Brand suspects that the thief wasn’t out to take the relic but that they grabbed it without thinking, taking advantage of an opportunity.
Brand suspects that the relic was hidden with someone else after the theft. That hider confided in an acquaintance, who then approached Brand by email, he said. “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.”
According to Brand, his doorbell rang at around 10:30 p.m. one evening last week. When he got to the door, he found a package. He said he saw no one on the street. Inside the package was a gold-colored chest. Brand checked for himself whether the object was real. “I’ve looked at all the books and images. This can’t be faked in three weeks. It’s real.”
That the stolen relic turned up safe and sound is very special, Brand said. “Of all art stolen worldwide, only 7 or 8 percent comes back. Often it is impossible to sell, sometimes it becomes too hot and is destroyed.”
The art detective called it his best find ever. “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.”
Brand wants to hand the object over to the National Unit of the Dutch police later this week, who must ensure that it returns to France.
The police will first examine the relic for trace evidence, like fingerprints and hair. These may provide clues to the person who stole the ancient artifact. Once that investigation is complete, the relic can quickly be returned to France, said the National Police Unit.
The thief is still at large, and it is unknown who helped hide the relic. It is unclear what forensics can yield. The police are tempering expectations. “The traces may have been properly erased. Then it will stop us pretty quickly. There may be fingerprints on it. But this is a relic. In a thousand years, I don’t know how many people touched it,” said the spokesperson.
I recovered the legendary ‘Blood of Jesus' of Fécamp ('Précieux Sang’), one of the oldest and holiest relics of the Catholic Church. Said to contain blood drops of Jesus Christ, collected in the Holy Grail from his wounds at the Cross. Stolen on June 2nd 2022 in France. AMEN! pic.twitter.com/YhgK8RaUaf— Arthur Brand (art detective) (@brand_arthur) July 12, 2022
Reporting by ANP and NL Times