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Eccentric held after hammer attacks on treasures of Venice
July 2, 2004

A man is in custody after a string of hammer attacks on priceless historic religious statues in Venice.
Antonio Benacchio, 38, an engineer living in the city, was detained when a priest became suspicious of his behaviour in a church on Monday. Because of his eccentric gestures, Mr Benacchio was already known to Venetians as the "engineer who measures the air", the Italian media reported.

He has been detained in a psychiatric hospital.

The attacks caused speculation that an anti-Christian fanatic was at work. They began on Saturday night when a man was seen taking a hammer to one of the delicate carvings that sit atop the arcade columns of the 14th century Doge's Palace on St Mark's square. He was put to flight by a Senegalese street trader, but not before doing severe damage to a capital that shows Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.

Next night, the attacker struck at a Madonna near the church of San Pietro di Castello. On Monday morning it was discovered that arms and hands had been hacked off statues of St Mark and St Francis in Palladio's Chiesa del Redentore on the Giudecca.

A few hours later, Mr Benacchio turned up at the Chiesa di San Giobbe. Claiming to be working for the authority responsible for Venice's cultural treasures, he asked to take a closer look at a statue whose arms, he said, were "too high". The priest telephoned for help.

Paramilitary carabinieri arrested Mr Benacchio and broke into his flat, discovering a shopping trolley containing a sledgehammer and fragments of marble.

"We quickly realised that these [attacks] were abnormal actions with no intention of stealing," said Francesco Saverio Pavone, the investigating magistrate. "The pieces were destroyed, and this strange behaviour was what led us to think these were the actions of a mentally disturbed person."


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