Mont Sainte-Odile, secret tunnels and stolen books.

I was in the middle of writing the sequel to A Spy Like Me and did a little research on monasteries and secret tunnels. I just needed a spark, a possibility, something I could use in my story, and I found it.

Ancient books were found missing from a locked library in a Mont Sainte-Odile, a monastery in the Vosges Mountains in France. For two years, the monks could not solve the mystery. Not until the police were called in, windows locked, and cameras set-up was the answer found.

Not even the monks knew that a section of a bookcase could swing open to reveal the room. (I guess they didn’t read enough Nancy Drew.)


picture credit

I can’t really blame the thief.

I mean, he was a teacher and loved books. I used to be a teacher, I’m a writer, and I love books. I love finding old books. In fact, when I walk through historic houses and see the off-limits bookshelves, lined with century-old books, my fingers itch. If no one were looking, I’d probably pick one up – delicately and with the utmost care, of course – run my hand across the bound cover and flip through the old pages.

I can picture Stanislas Gosse, at home, grading papers and nibbling on leftover meatloaf, while the map he’d found lay hidden in his desk. Eventually, he studied it and the spark of curiosity slowly turned into a burning obsession he couldn’t ignore. And then he put his plan into action.

Okay, so he had to climb the walls and hidden stairways, creep through medieval tunnels, enter the locked library, make it out with pounds of books and then escape on his bike! (Kind of like his own personal BEA, except he made it out with books more valuable than advanced reader copies. And there wasn’t a post office so he could ship them home.)

Can you imagine the thrill?

When the police arrested Gosse he still had the rope and three suitcases full of books. Talk about being caught red-handed. They found 1,000 books in his apartment.

What a great heist story.

Read the article here. And this one here. Pretty incredible.

Stanislav did receive fines, a prison sentence and community service helping the monks catalogue their books.

I love that an ordinary man turned into a daring thief. What would it take to send you over the edge to commit a crime? Or your characters?

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18 Responses to Mont Sainte-Odile, secret tunnels and stolen books.

  1. Donna K. Weaver June 18, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Wow. You’d have to really want something to go to that effort. As much as I love old books, I don’t think that would ever be a temptation for me. lol

  2. Louise June 18, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    I might turn criminal for books. Especially if it meant getting to break into a ancient monastery!

  3. Alex J. Cavanaugh June 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    That is a lot of effort for books!

  4. Laura June 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    I know! What effort! He must’ve been totally obsessed or addicted to the thrill of sneaking in and out of this ancient monastery. Just reading a 3 paragraph synopsis doesn’t do the narrative justice!

  5. Dianne Salerni June 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    What a cool story! Mild-mannered teacher turns to antiquities thief!

    You’re going to use this, right?

    • Laura June 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      I’ve already incorporated some of it into book 2 but not really. Like I said, I just needed a spark! But readers will recognize it if they read this post and read book 2! 🙂

      But I do love the concept of an average Joe turning into a criminal.

  6. Natalie Aguirre June 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    That was a lot of effort. Part of me is sad he got caught.

    • Laura June 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      No kidding! I do love that he kept them safe and even restored some. 🙂

  7. Traci Kenworth June 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Isn’t it amazing what we find by way of a story? Nuggets to insert in a story for future use.

  8. Patti June 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    He must have been pretty strong. Three suitcases full of books would have been heavy. Great story.

    • Laura June 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      No Kidding! I wonder about the mechanics of it all. I’d love to see it as a story…maybe a short story…

  9. Jessie Harrell June 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    oh wow – I’d love to sneak in and just sit there reading the books. I’d keep going back in again & again though. I don’t think I could actually steal the books – especially from a monastery!

  10. Jennifer Shirk June 19, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Ha! I wonder what kind of books they were… LOL

  11. Sherrie Petersen June 19, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    Wow! Cool story! I was cleaning off some shelves at work and found a book that’s over a hundred years old. It was like discovering a treasure. I totally wanted to keep it for myself 🙂

  12. Connie B. Dowell June 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Sneaking through tunnels and hidden passages for rare books! I can’t blame him for having that much fun, but I think if it were me, I’d treat it like a secret library, sneaking back in to return the books when I was done reading, though I don’t think reading was really his goal here.

  13. Stina Lindenblatt June 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    That’s the coolest heist story I’ve heard yet. I definitely don’t blame him. That’s amazing he was the only one who knew about the secret tunnel.

  14. Leigh Moore June 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    ooo–I love this story! And you totally had me seeing him there nibbling his meatloaf–LOL! So do they know? What was Stanislas going to do with all the books? Just keep them and read them? Sell them on ebay? 😀

    Fun post, Laura!

  15. Miss Jack Lewis Baillot June 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Oh! What an incredible story! (All those old books! How I would love to touch them, to smell their old page smell, to look at the lovely, old words! *Sigh*) I wouldn’t mind helping the Monks!

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