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The Just Judges


During the night of April 10 to 11, 1934, two panels from the The Ghent Altarpiece disappeared from St. Bavo's Cathedral. This concerned the panel of the Just Judges and the panel (grisaille) representing Saint John the Baptist. Three weeks after the theft, the diocese received one first blackmail letter from an unknown person who identified himself with the letters D.U.A. This D.U.A. later returned the grisaille, but negotiations about the return of the Just Judges stalled.

On Saturday April 15, 2023, 89 years after the theft, I was finally be able to look at the masterpiece in person
and see St. Bavo's Cathedral. Seeing this masterpiece gave me a surreal feeling. At that moment, having the first conversation with the family that had righteous possession of The Judges made one realize that one is part of something big, but would we be able to return the panel to the community? 


In the months before, my research had gained momentum. After reading the two books by Paul De Ridder (The Just Judges - Returned and Two Brussels residents are campaigning for the return of The Just Judges), I contacted this affable historian, who now lives in Florence. We quickly developed a warm bond between us. Paul obtained his doctorate in medieval studies in 1977 History, with a treatise on the Ducal revenue policy and development of the state of affairs in Brabant under Jan I and Jan II, led by Prof. Dr. W. Prevenier. During our
investigation and certain revelations, he sometimes said: “But Kurt, what a tangle! I am in some of those things, but I am not comfortable, as I am just a poor medieval person.”

From 1979 to 1989, De Ridder was archivist at the General State Archives in Brussels and from the end of 1989 to 1995, advisor at the State Secretariat of the Brussels-Capital Region. Between April 1995 and May 2009 he was affiliated with the Royal Library Albert I in Brussels. He was also the head of this Federal Scientific Institution
Department 'Cataloguing'. He was also responsible for the 'Donations and Legacies'.

In 2000, Paul met Prof. Dr. Robert Senelle, a lawyer, constitutional specialist and Confidante of the Court. Prof. Senelle was aware of De Ridder's many years of commitment to the Brussels cultural-historical heritage and in particular the restoration of the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula. At this time Prof. Senelle was searching for an opportunity to preserve his personal library and therefore contacted Paul De Ridder. The request was well received and De Ridder was extremely honoured to be in a position to facilitate the rescue and preservation of Prof. Senelle's library. Between the lawyer and the historian grew a long-lasting friendship.

Now in the context of that relationship of trust, Prof. Senelle informed De Ridder that he had been working since 1968 in an attempted to return the missing panel of the Just Judges to the Ghent St. Bavo's Cathedral.
The account of this story and the conversations about this attempted return of the panel forms the content of the two books written by Paul De Ridder (The Just Judges - Returned and Two Brussels residents are campaigning for the return of The Just Judges). We are not going to reconstruct this story again here - you have to read the books
So after reading these books I contacted Paul De Ridder. I told him about my research and findings, which supplemented his knowledge. Long conversations followed on the telephone and during his visits to Belgium we always agreed to have a state of affairs in the 'Ghent Dossier'. I delved into numerous archives at home
and abroad. I put together a richly varied puzzle, piece by piece. It became one particularly complex story in which I learned that white and black are rare and that people especially can be "grey".

This is not the umpteenth book where one can find clues through the D.U.A. letters hidden behind the panel. We are also not going to undertake any searches or excavations.

The information in this book is based on in-depth archival research and oral evidenced reliable testimonials. We separate truth from fiction. And if our sources leave us in the dark or we have our suspicions, but cannot substantiate them, then we will honestly admit that.  The truth nothing but the truth is the purpose of this book.


It is by no means our intention to portray people in a bad light. This book will tell you there was always an explainable reason why some people did something they did. With our current gaze we look at the motivations of people who lived and working in the 19th and 20th centuries is always treacherous. Which seems to have been of vital importance at the time perhaps futile for us now.

In this book we follow the chronology: from the reason for the theft to the restitution of the panel. In the box texts we take excursions and delve deeper into certain areas or facets of this meandering story, whilst striving not to make it even more complex.


We take you by the hand and promise you a real detective story that will at times astound you. Sometimes it seems so improbable that it simply couldn't have happened that way.
And yet!
To use the words of our affable medieval man Paul:
"All I want is the return of the panel, without scandal, as this world heritage belongs to the Community".

I can only endorse the man's view.

to be continued!


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