The Codex Calixtinus – Part I – Dan Brown

Codex Closeup

Closeup of the stolen Codex Calixtinus

It was like someone had stolen the Bayeux tapestry. One medieval documents expert placed the auction value of the artifact in the range of $125 million dollars.


Galicia was in an uproar. It was July 7th of last year and the priceless manuscript had been stolen three days earlier. The region’s most treasured cultural artifact, one of Spain’s crown jewels, had been stolen from the celebrated cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The Codex Calixtinus, a 225 page 12th century illuminated manuscript, had been spirited from a locked safe in the cathedral’s archives. First distraught librarians, then the cathedral’s security guard, and finally the cathedral dean spent hours looking for the revered pilgrim guidebook. They turned the archives upside down, hoping against hope, tearing their hair out, before calling in the guarda civil.

By the following morning an Interpol alert had been issued throughout Europe to prevent the purchase of the document. World news agencies were picking up on the story: a priceless Spanish treasure had been plucked from a vault surrounded by five security cameras, carefully guarded, and accessible only to archivists and the cathedral’s dean. Aside from the actual bones of the apostle St. James, believed to be preserved within the cathedral, there is no relic of greater religious and cultural significance in Galicia. Indeed the Codex Calixtinus is a manuscript with significance for all of Western Europe. It was like someone had stolen the Bayeux tapestry. On the profane financial front, one medieval documents expert placed the auction value of the artifact in the range of $125 million dollars.

El Correo Gallego, a local newspaper, pondered suspects for its readers, rounding up familiar icons. It must have been “The Americans” or a rabbi operating “with the complicity of an Israeli band” or “billionaire Arab sheiks.” Generally thefts of this type, the paper speculated, were directed by a “person of broad culture who is responsible for designing the theft to the smallest detail. They often operate at night, staying hidden within the enclosure or accessing it by bypassing security measures.”

Another expert opined that often “a professor” is commissioned by a black market dealer to steal documents like this – presumably because once an intruder finds himself within the library’s rare book vault with his precious minutes ticking away, he needs to read the Latin texts effortlessly. He has to skip knowledgeably over telltale, bookbinding styles from more recent centuries. He has to be clever enough to ignore the multitude of identical copies of the Codex reproduced by hand in later versions. He has to be able to tell the difference between the original illuminated art and the painstakingly copied reproductions that followed.

So he’d need to be an extraordinary fellow, this crooked professor. He’d need a feel for the language, the art, the bookmaking, how to work with infrared and pocket-sized chemistry sets. He’d have to establish exactly which book among hundreds to steal, his headlamp illuminating the ancient pages of the one true volume, the trace of a smile beginning to play on his lips, Hans Zimmer’s string section churning away maniacally, church bells in the score throbbing like the opening chimes of Hells Bells.

Then with his decision made and the volume in hand, he’d make a quick, decisive wrap of the book into a dark protective cloth. There’d be the brisk walk back through the empty cathedral. He’d have to make his way beneath the pulleys of the cathedral’s great thurible, past the shrouded hunched women crossing themselves. He’d step hurriedly down the alternating stairwells at the face of the cathedral and head out into the night. Done. Pan up to the face of the great cathedral.



The morning after the robbery is reported the guarda civil finds no points of obvious penetration. There is no picked lock. There are no clean circles of broken glass in the archive room skylight, no mountaineer’s filament of spider web left dangling abandoned. There are no night vision goggles or broken gargoyle noses or slippery dust shuffle trails along the cathedral roof. No web of infrared light around the reinforced glass case appears to be foiled through a clever counter-arrangement of mirrors. No drowsy nightwatch nun awakened by a bell tied to a subtle thread. No scarred, bald monk. No albino giant with blue eyes spotted in front of the rectory. Nothing. Not a clue.

It was impossible to read the international news that day and not speculate on the manuscript’s current location. It was being spirited away on a high-speed train across France or driven in a bus over the Pyrenees. It was headed towards the collector who coveted it, tucked into the false panel of a steel suitcase handcuffed to the rear passenger on a motorcycle. It was nestled in tailored black foam as trim as the pressed Oxford shirts that cleverly obscured it.

Somebody living in a country estate at the end of a long white gravel road, the kind of guy who could defend himself with a poisoned tip cane, the kind of guy who fingered the diamond collar on his longhaired white lapcat and had the real Mona Lisa in the master bedroom – that somebody was now reading the document in the blue-green light of his piranha tank. Some master plan was being fulfilled now; larger gears were only just beginning to turn. We’ve seen this movie. We know who wants these kinds of things. It’s just a matter of picking out the right castle on the CIA satellite feed.

But the local guarda civil hardly knew where to look. One of the most important cultural treasures in the last thousand years, a document that has brought millions of people – and dollars – to Santiago was gone. Europe’s first Michelin guide. The litany of St. James Spanish miracles. And, on top of everything else, the world’s first written record of musical polyphony. Gone. Gone. Gone. The clever professor and the cripple with the shark tank have pulled off the perfect crime. The professor takes off his hat, shakes out his hair, and turns out to be a beautiful woman before racing off on her motorbike.

Dan Brown has stolen the Codex Calixtinus.

To be continued…