A Dedicated Reader

Image: Flickr

Between August 2000 and May 2002, more than 1,100 ancient books disappeared from the French monastery of Mont Saint-Odile. There was no sign of forced entry; the monks changed the locks and reinforced the library door with steel, but the books continued to vanish. The thief even left a rose, taunting them.

Finally police installed a video camera and caught Stanislas Gosse, a Strasbourg engineering teacher, entering the darkened library through a cupboard. He confessed that he had discovered a lost map in public archives that revealed the secret entrance — he climbed the exterior walls of the monastery, entered the attic, descended a narrow stairway, and operated a hidden mechanism to open the back of the cupboard. He then browsed the library by candlelight. Apparently the passage had been used to spy on monks in medieval times, when the library had served as the monastery’s common room.

Gosse was convicted of “burglary by ruse and escalade,” fined, and given a suspended sentence. “I’m afraid my burning passion overrode my conscience,” he said. “It may appear selfish, but I felt the books had been abandoned. They were covered with dust and pigeon droppings, and I felt no one consulted them anymore.”

“There was also the thrill of adventure–I was very scared of being found out.”