'Indiana Jones of art' strikes again!
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.
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."
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.
"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.