Lost Gold of Lima and Pisco

Then according to plan, a diversion

In the mid 1800's, a modest and reportedly humble church located on the coast of Peru became the unfortunate victim of a dastardly scheme appropriately reminiscent of pirate legend. The Pisco Church filled its large coffers with what would prove to be a dangerous amount of treasure over the years from various Spanish expeditions. During the time, churches often served a secondary purpose as temporary storehouses for excess treasure and safe-guards were put in place to protect the wealth. Stores at Pisco however, took on a little more treasure than originally intended due to its centralized location in Lima. To protect the church's cache, guards were on duty around the clock, keeping a watchful eye for anything threatening. The bulging coffers caught attention of four devious men who then worked up a scheme designed essentially, to simply walk off with the treasure. In the elaborate setup, the men attended the church on a regular basis to establish trust with the ministry.

Eventually they were in a position to help guard what would soon become their loot. Then, according to plan, a diversion was set to draw the church's attention away from the cache which conveniently left the men alone to stand guard unsupervised. Without delay, the men quickly plundered the church and fled from the scene. Exactly how much treasure the men made away with is unknown. Some frame of reference exists which describes the church cache in its entirety according to recorded losses, and report details from the ministry, but this is the closest to accurate valuation known.

Estimations from those accounts suggest around fourteen tons of gold were potentially on site at the time of plundering; around five-hundred and thirty-six million on today's market in metal value alone. Along with the gold were two valuable chests containing precious goods organized for safekeeping. One chest held an estimated five hundred-thousand in Spanish doubloons, and another full of premium quality raw gemstones. Topping the treasure off, ornate gem-encrusted crucifixes and candlesticks adorning the church, also plundered. Four men devised a plan, which according to legend succeeded in moving a substantially wealthy cache from the Pisco Church, however, curious questions cast serious doubts over the logistics of such a feat. Fourteen tons of gold would require a method of transportation, perhaps horse-drawn carts in succession, for moving the treasure without too much suspicion.

Church of Lima
Church of Lima

How the men were able to accomplish this depends a lot on how the loot was stored at the church and what tools the men readily had access to. For example, if Spain kept the treasure on rolling carts, a detail not mentioned in legends, then the scenario becomes much more plausible. After plundering, the four men chartered a ship to Australia with a plan to ditch the treasure along the way before arriving then return for it later. Popular legend indicates the ship stopped at lush atolls nestled in the mid-Pacific where the loot was stashed at the bottom of an island pool. Which island pool?

Four locations are mentioned as potential hiding places including Pinaki, Katiu, Makemo, and Tahiti in the French Polynesia. These locations are well-known and part of a reputable sized series of beautiful atolls dotting the ocean between Peru and Australia. Several lesser known islands are easily in vicinity of the aforementioned which adds difficulty to decipher exactly where the hiding took place. Adding to the mystery, the kicker, all four men were killed before they had a chance to return to the hiding spot. This is one of many versions of how the legend explains the last known location of Lima's treasure. Researchers discovered the story of treasure plundered from a Pisco church has surfaced over the years in several eerily similar versions. In fact, the legend is likely to be a derivative rooted from a famed mystery, the Loot of Lima, reported to take place at least thirty years before Pisco church event.

There are slight variations between the legends, but the overall essence remains; that a large amount of treasure with similar composition was plundered from the coast of Peru and buried on an island somewhere out in the Pacific or on the way to Mexico. By similar composition, the earlier mystery also describes gem-encrusted crucifixes, candlesticks, gems, and a cache of gold. Though, the major discrepancy between the Pisco church legend and the Loot of Lima mystery is the amount valued to have gone missing. In the earlier event, an estimated sum of sixty million in gold went missing from Lima. Could it be both legends are the same story told differently, that the Pisco legend is an exaggerated version of the Loot of Lima?

Spain's exploration in the area, and a necessity for stockpiling treasure at various staging sites, this significantly simple question is also perplexing to a point. Generous amounts of precious goods were accumulated during conquests, so much in fact, that filling multiple churches and storehouses became part of due process. Pisco is close enough to Lima for relatively short travel by sea or land over two-hundred and forty kilometers, and both locations have persuasive reasons why a large cache of gold, gems, and jewelry would be stored on site. Along with this, treasure may have moved between these two locations for protection during the height of regional conflict.

Both legends feature a number of similarities possibly indicating the stories are born from the same event. In each, the treasure's composition is described as gem-encrusted candlesticks, ornate crucifixes, and a measurable amount of gold ornaments thieved from a Spanish church. Lima's legend roots from an earlier time and references a much smaller treasure in comparison to Pisco, yet both legends identify the robbery as an inside job. Perhaps in this consideration, the two legends demonstrate an alternative explanation, that the same men were involved in pillaging both churches or word of their success inspired copycat heists. The event at Lima claims wealth accumulated by the Catholic church is scurried north by ship to Mexico for supposed protection prior to civil outbreak. Captain Will Thompson devised a scheme on the journey north to retain the treasure for himself and managed to eliminate the crew. Thompson then transported his spoils to Cocos Island for burial and later retrieval.

Interesting enough, the Pisco treasure faced a similar fate years after this incident. In the Pisco legend, four men obtain a church's riches which they haul off to sea and stash it for later retrieval. Both legends leave the treasure's whereabouts in question, buried somewhere on a remote island in the Pacific. Lima became a hotbed for loot storage during Spanish prospecting in the region, and it's quite possible enough treasure existed in both locations to account for each legend, suggesting instead both are plausible and not derivative. The composition at each location is likely to be very similar, that is, if the wealth stored originated from a much larger source before it was split between storage locations.