Crime of passion.

Friday, June 20th, 2003

Take one medieval convent, one locked library, a lost map, a hidden passageway, and a thousand missing manuscripts, and what do you get? No, it’s not The Name of the Rose - it’s a modern-day mystery that makes me positively shiver with delight.

The medieval convent of Mont Sainte-Odile perches on a woody mountaintop overlooking the plains of Alsace. The library attached to the abbey was closed to the public and kept permanently locked - and yet, in August 2000, a steady stream of books and illuminated manuscripts began to disappear from it. Over the next two years, the locks on the library were changed once, twice, three times…the windows were sealed…the door was reinforced with steel…and still, the books continued to vanish.

In a stroke of luck, a gendarme finally discovered a narrow hidden passageway behind one of the library shelves. CCTV cameras were installed and, in May 2002, the culprit was caught: Stanislas Gosse, an engineering teacher, amateur student of Latin, and passionate lover of books. He had found a map tucked away in Strasbourg University Library which showed the location of the secret entrance and had then proceeded to sneak books out of the abbey and keep them in his own home - safely stacked, catalogued, and in some cases even restored. “I’m afraid my burning passion overrode my conscience,” Gosse said. “It may appear selfish, but I felt the books had been abandoned.”

Who could blame him, really? Well, the court in Strasbourg, for one: he’s been given a suspended sentence of 18 months and fined 17,000 euros. But on a happier note, he has also been forgiven by the Archbishop of Strasbourg and Father Donius, the librarian at Mont Sainte-Odile, and they have said he’s welcome to return to the library to be with the books he loves so much (but preferably not by using the secret passageway).

Now, I know that stealing the books was a crime, and that crimes are bad, but…well, the medievalist and bibliophile in me just has to smile.

The full, fascinating details of the story can be found here and here, and the (short) Metafilter thread that alerted me to all of this in first place is here.



Thank you! That’s a lovely story, which I’d missed. Really cheered me up. I hope the convent appreciate that from now on visitors will want to know all about the secret tunnel… and on a complete tangent, secret tunnels always fascinated me as a kid (no doubt there’s a Freudian aspect but let’s not go there), and I used to wonder if modern day architects ever included secret passageways in their designs… But; as seen in so many films, has anyone ever actually cut an viewhole through the eye of a portrait?


I’m fascinated by secret tunnels and hidden passageways, too. Here in Brighton, there are apparently secret tunnels that lead from some of the buildings in town down to the sea. Rumor has it they were used by smugglers hundreds of years ago - which would be very much in keeping with Brighton’s shady seaside character. Cool stuff.

Winchester Mystery House in California is an example of a "modern" (turn of the last century) building constructed with all sorts of wacky architectural anomalies - hidden passageways, staircases and doors leading nowhere, windows in the floors… It was built by a madwoman, however. But I suspect that there are still some very rich, very eccentric people around who might commission architects to build them houses with weird structural features like secret passageways.

Posted by Jessica

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