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Ransom Demand Made for Papal Skull

August 23, 2000

ILLUECA, Spain (AP) _ The mayor of a Spanish town has received a ransom demand for the stolen skull of a 14th-century pope.

The cranium belonged to Benedict XIII, a Spaniard whose 14th-century papacy was part of a tumultuous period called the Great Schism because there were rival popes in the Roman Catholic Church.

After Benedict XIII died in 1423, his remains changed hands several times, and over the centuries all but the skull was lost. It was stolen in April from a rundown mansion in the town of Sabinan, in his native Aragon region in northeast Spain.

Now, the mayor of Illueca _ the pontiff’s birthplace _ says he was contacted by someone claiming to have the skull and willing to relinquish it for a price.

``I honestly believe this is no joke,″ Mayor Javier Vicente Ines said Tuesday.

He said he received photos late last month along with the first of two letters, including shots of the cranium inside the glass urn where it had been stored in the Sabinan mansion.

The second letter, received early this month, suggested a meeting in the city of Zaragoza to exchange the skull for $5,400. Vicente Ines agreed, and went with a hidden microphone and plainclothes police watching from a distance. But no one asking for ransom turned up.

Vicente Ines said Illueca wants the cranium _ he called Benedict XIII ``our most noble son″ _ although it cannot pay because it is stolen property.

``Besides its historical significance, we attach sentimental value to this skull,″ the mayor said.

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