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Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Ransom demand for medieval Pope's skull
Pope Benedict's skull
Pope Benedict's skull before being stolen
It would seem that the Spanish and Aragonese chroniclers of the 14th and 15th Century were right when they predicted that the body of Pope Benedict X111 would never rest in peace.

In the latest indignity to befall his remains, Pope Benedict's skull has been stolen from a remote village in north eastern Spain - and the thieves are demanding a ransom for its return.

The mayor of the village of Illueca, where the Pope was born, told a local newspaper that he had received two hand-written ransom notes in August demanding one million pesetas ($5,400 ) for the return of the relic, which was stolen in April.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to trap the thief at a rendezvous in a park in the city of Zaragoza but the culprit failed to make contact.

Mayor of Illueca
Ransom notes demanded a redezvous with mayor Vicente
Mayor Vicente said he believed the ransom notes were genuine and he expected to receive further instructions.

Eventful history

The remains of the Pope, who died in 1423, aged 95, have had an eventful history. His embalmed body was moved after his death to Illueca were it became famous for working miracles.

During the 18th Century War of Succession, all but the skull was destroyed by French troops.

Since then it had been kept in an urn in a palace in the nearby town of Savinan. It was only taken out once, three years ago during an exhibition in his honour, when it was insured for 50 million pesetas ($269,000), El Mundo said.

Pope Benedict, known popularly as Papa Luna, took part in the Great Western Schism which divided the Roman Catholic church between 1378 and 1409.

El Mundo newspaper said in April that the theft represented a "pillage of the cultural and historical heritage of Aragon".

Images by Heraldo de Aragon, reproduced with kind permission

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