While visiting the Iglesia de San Jose in Casco Viejo in Panama City, three big men approached me and told me they wanted to steal the famous Golden Altar. This ancient treasure was originally housed in a church in Old Panama that was built in 1519. But since the place was hard to defend from marauders who wanted to steal this priceless artifact, the Golden Altar was moved to its present location in San Felipe in the 16th century.
Surprisingly, there is very little security for this prized possession. While touching isn’t allowed, you can get close to the altar. Only a simple barrier stands between you and this treasure. Obviously, that won’t prevent the three uninvited guests from stealing it. Most of the people had left at this time and the doors were securely locked. Still, as I stood in awe of the altar, I wondered how the robbers could do this, considering that the altar is too large and too heavy to carry.
“Do you know who I am, Bobby?” Jose, the leader of the group, asked. “Go on. Take a good look at my face and see if you recognize me.”
I started at Jose’s face and he did look familiar. Then it suddenly hit me. This was no ordinary robber. I knew that face. The man in front of me had come from the past to haunt me.
“It can’t be,” I muttered. “Morgan? You’re Henry Morgan?”
“No, my friend. I’m not Henry Morgan. Don’t be ridiculous. He died centuries ago. I’m his great grandson. My great grandfather was very disappointed when he couldn’t find the Golden Altar. He remained bitter to the end. I’m here to complete his mission.”
I remembered that story well. Morgan was an English pirate who attacked and burned the city in 1671. He knew that the treasures that were found in Peru and other South American countries originally came from Panama. His greediness brought him here but his main target was the Golden Altar.
But Morgan was outsmarted by the keepers of the altar. To hide the treasure from him, the Jesuit monks of the Order of St. Agustine painted the altar black. When Morgan arrived, he was told by the monks that the Golden Altar had already been stolen by other pirates. Legend says that the one of the monks even asked for a donation from Morgan to replace the missing altar to which the latter replied, “I don’t know why but I think you are more of a pirate than I am.”
Thinking that the black altar was made of simple wood and worthless, Morgan left the city disappointed. To keep the gold safe, the monks later transferred the altar to its present location where it has been undisturbed until now.
“But how do you intend to get the altar out without being seen by anyone? You just can’t put in it your pocket and walk out of here,” I said.
“Oh, but we don’t intend to take it out in one piece. No, indeed. Let’s just say we have other plans,” he answered and motioned his partner Clive to get sticks of dynamite from the huge duffel bag.
But before they could do anything foolish, there was a blinding flash of light from the altar. All of us were taken aback by what we witnessed. From the light there emerged a number of ghostly figures that hovered above us. A terrifying voice echoed through the walls of the old church.
“Do not touch the altar. It belongs here and no one can take it,” the voice said.
At this point, the three raiders took their weapons and fired shots at the ghostly figures but their bullets had no effect whatsoever. Before I could tell them to stop, they were absorbed by the white light and mysteriously disappeared.
“Do not be afraid,” the voice told me. “We know who you are and you will not be harmed.”
“Who…who are you?” I asked.
“We are the guardians of the altar…the original monks who protected it and swore to keep it safe from harm. We reside here and will always be here to watch over the altar.”
Then, just as they appeared suddenly, the ghosts were gone without a trace. I was alone once more with nothing more than a memory of what transpired.
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