Oops! British Aristocrat Accidentally Bought Stolen, 7th-Century Sculptures As 'Garden Ornaments'
Dutch art detective Arthur Brand poses with two limestone Visigoth reliefs from the seventh century in London on Jan. 20, 2019.
Credit: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty

In 2004, two chunky limestone reliefs depicting Catholic saints were stolen from a medieval church in Burgos, Spain. The reliefs dated to the seventh century, weighed about 110 lbs.(50 kilograms) apiece and were thought to be worth many millions of dollars. Earlier this week, professional art detective Arthur Brand found them — moldering in the dirt and leaves of a British country garden.
"The thieves wanted to sell [the reliefs] and make a lot of money, but soon found out they stole world heritage that would be extremely difficult to sell," Brand told the French news site AFP (Agence France-Presse). "So, they decided to sell them as garden ornaments." [30 of the World's Most Valuable Treasures That Are Still Missing]
According to AFP, those "ornaments" were purchased several years ago by a well-off British aristocrat who had no idea about their true provenance. Brand, who spent eight years tracking the reliefs from dealer to dealer across Europe, estimates that the unwitting aristocrat probably spent about $65,000 (50,000 pounds) apiece to add the artifacts to his estate's garden north of London.