Nuns' Funeral Casks Become Latest Flashpoint in Catalan Dispute

(Bloomberg) -- The removal of religious artifacts from a Catalan museum has become the latest flashpoint in the region’s independence dispute.

Police scuffled with protesters early Monday as they escorted technicians working on removing 44 pieces formerly belonging to the Sijena Monastery in Aragon, in northeastern Spain, from the museum of the Catalan town of Lleida. A judge had ordered the transfer of the artifacts, which include three exquisitely adorned nuns’ wooden funeral casks and items including paintings and altarpieces, from the museum back to Aragon.

Nuns' Funeral Casks Become Latest Flashpoint in Catalan Dispute

The removal of the museum pieces is the latest event to spark tensions in Catalonia as the region prepares for elections on Dec. 21 after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy disbanded its government to snuff out its bid to declare independence from Spain. Catalonia’s ousted President Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to try to run a government in exile, said the removal of the specimens was another sign of Spain’s attempts to “plunder” Catalonia.

“Under cover of night and using a militarized police force, as always, ” Puigdemont said in a Tweet Monday. “All to profit from a coup d’etat to plunder Catalonia with absolute impunity.”

In the vote this month, Catalan’s pro-independence parties are seen losing their parliamentary majority by one or two seats, according to a GAD3 poll published by La Vanguardia newspaper on Sunday.

‘Justice Done’

Mayte Perez, the head of the culture department at the government of Aragon, said the removal of the museum pieces had nothing to do with politics or the Spanish government’s decision to invoke a constitutional clause to unseat Puigdemont’s administration.

She accused the Catalan government of ignoring court orders to surrender the pieces for two years.

“Justice is being done,” she told Onda Cero radio Monday.

Founded in 1193, the monastery at Sijena once housed an important collection of artistic and religious artifacts that was among the richest in Europe, according to the history of the site on the website of the regional newspaper Heraldo de Aragon.

The collection has been dispersed over the centuries and the monastery suffered significant damage during the Spanish Civil War. With the death of the last prioress of Sirena, the remaining items were sold off to the Catalan regional government from 1983 to 1992. The sales were deemed to be illegal because the monastery was declared a protected national monument in 1923.

“I always said that the ruling has to be complied with, and the ruling has been complied with,” said Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo on the sidelines of an event in Madrid.

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