Saturday, March 04, 2006

Secret Passages, "Ruse and Escalade"

Off steve:, an architectural folly company offering you built-in secrete passages and hidden niches appropriate to store guns in, according to one of their animations. The videos and small 3d animations are very cute.

Which site made me think of one of my favorite news stories from my time in France: The mystery of the hilltop monastery, the locked room and the missing manuscripts. A classic locked room mystery:

From that date, a succession of immensely valuable works, including precious early religious texts and several dozen heavy 15th-century illuminated manuscripts bound in wood and leather, began disappearing from the abbey's first-floor library. Police were flummoxed. "It was one of those frustrating but also rather thrilling cases," Madeleine Simoncello, the Saverne public prosecutor, said yesterday. "Quite extraordinary items were vanishing, sometimes singly, sometimes by the dozen. By last weekend over 1,000 had gone, yet the room wasn't even open to the public and as far as we knew nobody could get in."
The resolution of the mystery is better reported in this followup article after sentencing:
Gosse, a teacher at a Strasbourg engineering school and a former naval officer, faced a rare charge of "burglary by ruse and escalade", a reference to the tortuous climb in and out of the locked library.

He had found the route after discovering a forgotten map in public archives which revealed the secret access from the monastery attic. The map was a key exhibit in the trial. The attic, reached by a daring climb up exterior walls, led to a steep, narrow stairway and then the secret chamber. A hidden mechanism opened up the back of one of five cupboards in the library. The plans suggested that the secret route to the library, once the monastery's common room, served in medieval times to spy on the monks' conversations.

You can't make this stuff up. It needs to become a movie. To round out the fun, here's the wikipedia entry on secret passages, which points to an article from Jan 2006 about an enormous secret passage across the Mexican border to the USA. And finally, I found this fascinating archive of the Museum Security Network mailing list, full of tasty and weird stories of stolen antiquities.



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