One of the most sacred relics of the Catholic Church, known as the ‘Precious Blood of Christ,’ contained in an elaborate golden shrine, was stolen from Fécamp Abbey Church in Normandy, France on June 1 of this year. This intricately constructed and finely decorated religious object is said to contain two vials of Jesus Christ’s blood, which was supposedly collected during his crucifixion 2,000 years ago.
There were no clues as to who took this incredibly holy and valued object. But just as suddenly as it vanished the Precious Blood of Christ reappeared less than a month later, when it was left on the doorstep of a Dutch art detective who specializes in the recovery of stolen masterpieces of all types.
Left in Safe Hands
This story may sound like fiction, or at least too good to be true. But it is nothing out of the ordinary for Arthur Brand, the Dutch art collector and historian who has recovered more than 200 pilfered works of art over the last three decades.
Brand has actually been referred to as the ‘ Dutch Indiana Jones’ for his ability to track down and retrieve stolen art from various locations in Europe. In this instance, however, he didn’t have to do any legwork at all to recover a treasured historic relic that many had feared might be gone forever.
Brand says he was contacted about three weeks after the ornate golden shrine was stolen, by an anonymous representative of the person or persons who took this priceless object.
“This person was approaching me on behalf of another, at whose home the stolen relics were being stored,” Brand told Euronews . “A couple of days later, at 10:30 in the evening, the doorbell rang. I looked from my balcony outside and in the dark I saw a box.”
When he opened the box and saw that the shrine with the relic had indeed been returned, Brand was both delighted and relieved.
“Seven to eight per cent of stolen art is returned and much of it is destroyed,” he explained in an interview with the BBC , highlighting the incredibly unusual and highly fortunate nature of this astonishing recovery.
Terrified by a Curse?
The sacred Precious Blood of Christ relic does indeed hold two small tubes of ancient blood, which are reputed to have been spilled by Christ before he took his last breaths on the Cross. It was taken from Fécamp Abbey just two weeks before this year’s “Mass of the Sacred Blood” celebration, which has been drawing pilgrims to the site where the Precious Blood of Christ relic has been held for more than 1,000 years.
The police theorize that the thieves hid out in the abbey until it closed, and then removed the relic along with several other works of art and pieces of gold before escaping under the cover of night.
But there was something special about the holy shrine that gave them second thoughts about keeping it, and Arthur Brand believes he knows why the thieves brought it back.
“To have the ultimate relic, the blood of Jesus in your home, stolen, that’s a curse,” he said. “When they realized what it was, that you in fact cannot sell it, they knew they had to get rid of it.”
Brand lives more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from the abbey in France where the holy shrine was previously housed. Yet the thieves chose to return it to him, perhaps because of his international fame or perhaps because the criminals are Dutch and lived relatively close by.
For reasons unexplained, Brand waited until July 12 to announce the recovery publicly, which he did on Twitter . He turned the shrine over to Dutch authorities after disclosing what had happened, and the sacred relic will soon be returned to its rightful home at the abbey in Fécamp.
Living a Life of Adventure Through Art
The recovery of the Precious Blood of Christ shrine is just the latest success story for Arthur Brand. Over the course of his career as a self-style art crime investigator, Brand has become renowned the world over for his uncanny ability to locate stolen art objects of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. He has cultivated many sources on the black market who tip him off about where to find particular works, and he is frequently consulted by European police when valuable pieces of art suddenly come up missing.
Brand generally funds his own investigations. He has recovered works of arts worth an estimated £250 million, he claims, covering more than 200 recoveries in total. Among Brand’s most notable finds were a ring stolen from Oxford University that once belonged to Oscar Wilde, a Pablo Picasso painting pilfered from a Saudi Prince’s yacht, and a Salvador Dali masterpiece stolen from a Dutch museum.
Undoubtedly Brand’s most famous success was his recovery of Hitler’s Horses, a set of 16-foot (five-meter) tall Bronze statues made by Nazi artist Josef Thorak for display outside the Reich Chancellery in 1939. Brand journeyed far and wide during that investigation, acting on leads acquired from a number of shady and potentially dangerous sources. During his travels he frequently posed as a Texas businessman modeled after J.R. Ewing from the TV show ‘Dallas,’ in order to disguise his true purpose.
This particular investigation began in 2014 and took two years to complete. But in the end Brand recovered the Horses and cemented his reputation as the world’s greatest art detective in the process.
While he has enjoyed many thrilling exploits, the recovery of the Precious Blood shrine has a special meaning for Brand.
“As a Catholic, this is about as close to Jesus and the Holy Grail legend as you can get,” he said, acknowledging his excitement at being in proximity to such a revered and historically significant artifact. He described the emotions he felt when opening the box that contained the relic as an “authentic, religious experience.”