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The reappearance of the angel from the church of Castrojeriz
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The reappearance of the angel from the church of Castrojeriz

At 10 o’clock in the morning, we do not see a living soul in Castrojeriz. Walkers and pilgrims who stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela have not yet invaded the main street of the Castilian village, located at the foot of a ruined fortress. As every day for fourteen years, Enrique Alonso Anton pushes the heavy wooden door of the San Juan church. Although the septuagenarian priest knows every corner of it, he still marvels at the Gothic vaults and the impressive columns topped with stone palm trees.

His faded blue eyes come alive as soon as he evokes the past splendor of this rich region of Spain, which saw the birth of the legend of El Cid and the adventures of Don Quixote. In the XVe century, the commercially enriched nobility paraded in Castrojeriz, displaying the trappings of their rank. The town then had no less than five places of worship. It was before the wars of religion which tore Europe apart. Before the terrible earthquake which destroyed the fortifications of the city and two of its churches, in the XVIIIe century. Before the industrialization which emptied the countryside and transformed Castrojeriz into a sleepy village of 600 inhabitants.

Of this golden age, nothing remains. Nothing, except six tapestries by the Flemish Corneille Schutz, brought back from Bruges in the 17the century by the Count of Castro. Tapestry was then considered a major art, on a par with painting. And these allegories – music, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, grammar – are among the most sumptuous of their time. They are now the attraction of the hamlet.

Even in the half-light of the San Juan church, their beauty is obvious. From his master Pierre Paul Rubens, Corneille Schutz retained the hypertrophy of the body and the generous breasts. A baroque movement makes the folds of drapery quiver. But one detail is immediately striking: the largest of the tapestries, The Apotheosis of the Arts, is amputated by a piece. A square of 55 centimeters by 65 centimeters is missing in its left corner. A cherub more or less, nothing important, you will say. However, this missing putto has long been the key to an international investigation, begun forty years earlier and which found its happy epilogue in February.

In the past, the tapestries were at the other end of the village, in the Santo Domingo church, before it was converted into a center of history on the Camino de Santiago. Smaller, stockier, it is also more visible from the street. It was through one of the side windows, now walled up, that a gang of thieves broke in on November 7, 1980. In a few minutes, the brigands took away silver chalices and candelabras, paintings and chasubles. And above all these tapestries, the border of which they tear as they unhook them. At the head of the gang, René Alphonse van den Berghe, alias “Erik the Belgian”.

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