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Why Three Romanian Priests Stole a Dead Man’s Hand

An attempted robbery of the hand of Saint Haralambie went awry when the thieves tripped the alarm at the Mega Spileo Monastery.

Not the hand in question. Photo by Urban via Wikipedia

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This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.

Earlier this week, three Romanian priests got caught stealing a dead man's hand in Greece. However, this wasn't your run-of-the-mill grave robbery, because that hand belonged to a saint, Haralambie, who, according to the Romanian Orthodox Church, is supposed to protect you from plague and famine.

Local media reports that the priests, who were visiting the Mega Spileo Monastery in Kalavryta, along with 40 other people, decided to simply swipe the holy relic. The Greek monks were used to such attempts, and an alarm went off, alerting security. The Romanian priests made a run for it and, like any good pickpockets, threw the holy hand into some nearby grass, because they knew that it if you're not caught red-handed with the item you've allegedly stolen, it's very hard to convict you of theft.

If you don't get why these people are so keen on getting hold of a dead person's hand, that's because it's an Eastern European custom. Here, people go on giant pilgrimages where they pay to sit in line for hours, even days, just to kiss the glass covering these relics. These pilgrimages have become a giant business for the Romanian church, which only allows them to be done using their travel agency. Because any money the church makes cannot be taxed, it's a very lucrative business.

The priests may well have been trying to get in on some of this action by bringing the holy relic back to Romania and saying they had miraculously just found it, all in a bid to gather a bigger flock. Of course, their plan backfired spectacularly and now they've been suspended from their priestly authority while they're under arrest in Greece.