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‘Indiana Jones of art’ finds stolen Spanish carvings in English nobleman’s garden

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A Dutch art detective has returned two priceless stone reliefs stolen from an ancient Spanish church after tracing them to an English nobleman’s garden where they were displayed as ornaments.

Arthur Brand, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the art world”, said he handed over the centuries-old carvings to the Spanish embassy in London at a private ceremony on Monday.

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It was the culmination of a long search for the artworks, which were snatched in 2004 from the Santa Maria de Lara church in northern Spain, believed to be at least 1,000 years old.

They turned up in the garden of an aristocratic British family who had unwittingly bought them, and it was there that Brand found them covered in mud and leaves.

“These artworks are priceless. To find them in a garden after searching for eight years is just incredible,” the art sleuth told AFP.

“You can imagine how horrified they were to learn that their garden ornaments were in fact priceless stolen Spanish religious art.”

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The private investigator showed AFP the stone carvings — one of which depicts John the Evangelist, author of one of the Gospels — hours before they were handed back.

The reliefs, said to weigh 50 kilos (110 pounds) each, were then handed to representatives of Spain’s Guardia Civil police force, who are collaborating in the case, and two museum curators from the northern city of Burgos.

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The Spanish embassy in London declined to comment.

– ‘World heritage’ –

The hunt for the artworks could come straight from a detective novel.

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The church from which they were stolen is believed to date from the era of the Visigoths, with experts dating it between the seventh and eleventh centuries.

 AFP / NIKLAS HALLE’N The two stone carvings were snatched in 2004 from the Santa Maria de Lara church in northern Spain

But in a huge blow the reliefs were snatched by professional art thieves in 2004, Brand said.

In 2010 the intrepid sleuth first received word from an unnamed British informant that “something strange” had popped up in London, which eventually pointed him to a shadowy man Brand referred to as ‘Mr X’.

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“It turns out ‘Mr X’ saw a French dealer arriving with the reliefs by truck in London. They were put on offer as garden ornaments — but Mr X recognised them as possible Visigoth religious artworks,” Brand said.

“The guys who stole these wanted to sell it for a couple of millions or whatever, but they have soon find out that you can not sell these, so to make at least a little bit of money, they sold them as garden ornaments,” he said, adding that they were probably sold for around 50,000 pounds each.

Brand then tracked down the French dealer, who pointed them towards an unnamed British aristocratic family living north of London.

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 AFP / NIKLAS HALLE’N Dutch art detective Arthur Brand with the two recovered stone Visigoth reliefs

“It ended up in the garden of an English nobleman, who did not know that it was world heritage, where they would stay like 15 years,” he said.

The owners were so shocked when told the truth that “they wanted to throw the artworks into a river and let them disappear forever. Fortunately we managed to convinced them not to,” said Brand.

It was yet another success for Brand, who was in the headlines last year for returning a stolen 1,600-year-old mosaic to Cyprus that was found in the possession of a similarly unwitting British family.

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He won world fame in 2015 after finding “Hitler’s Horses”, two bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak.

– ‘Worthy of Dan Brown’ –

The recovery of the artworks could also play an important role in revealing more about the mysterious Santa Maria de Lara church near Burgos.

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 AFP / NIKLAS HALLE’N The stone reliefs were found in the garden of an aristocratic British family

The church was effectively lost for centuries before being rediscovered in 1921 by a local priest and declared a national monument in 1929.

Inside, the church has Christian, but also pagan, Roman symbols and Islamic influences — “worthy of a Dan Brown novel,” Brand quipped.

The stone reliefs “are of huge value,” said Rene Payo, art history professor at the University of Burgos.

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“They are important because not many exist today. There are very little… quantities of Visigoth figurative sculptures,” he told AFP.

The Visigoths settled in Spain between the fifth and eighth century after driving out the Romans, but were themselves overthrown by the Moors in 711.

The looted artworks could also be “essential” evidence in a debate raging among scholars about the exact age of the church, said Oxford University researcher David Addison.

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Addison said some believed it was a 7th century building while others dated it to the 10th or 11th centuries.

Brand’s return of the artifacts “would be a great service in this regard,” Addison said.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Trump-loving “hate group” leader struggles to defend chauvinism during CNN interview on Portland chaos

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Portland, Oregon on Saturday was the scene of another far-right mobilization by groups such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.

CNN's Sara Sidner interviewed Enrique Tarrio, who succeeded Gavin McInnes as the chairman of the Proud Boys. The group is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Tarrio had traveled from Miami to take part in the far-right rally in Portland and appeared to be wearing body armor.

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‘Go back to Harlem!’: Florida woman has n-word laced meltdown after bumping black woman’s shopping cart

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On Saturday, the Atlanta Black Star reported an incident in Florida, in which a white woman screamed racial slurs at a black woman at a Publix supermarket in Miami after their shopping carts jostled each other.

After the woman allegedly banged into Nicki Johnson's cart, she refused to apologize, saying, "I didn't hit you with my cart, and f**k you,  you f**king n****r."

Johnson whipped out her cell phone camera, and began recording the incident, saying "You, why don't you call me a n****r again?"

"You thinking I'm sorry?" snapped the woman. "Let me tell you something, I don't have to call you anything. Get away from me, I will call security and there are surveillance videos. Get away from me!"

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‘I’m a nurse, what are you?’: Tennessee lawmaker humiliates anti-choice activists in brutal public grilling

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Anti-choice activists in Tennessee were unprepared for the grilling they got from a Democratic Party lawmaker when making the case for a bill that would outlaw abortion before many women knew they were pregnant.

One of the speakers in favor of the fetal heartbeat bill was Baptist Pastor Randy Davis, who was questioned by state Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis).

"How many women executive pastors do you have in your convention?" Robinson asked Davis. "Or senior pastors."

"None," Davis replied.

"So is it the same ideology that restricts access to women being able to lead a congregation that leads you all to support women not being able to make a medical decision about their body?" Robinson asked.

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