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The words “thou shalt not steal” – or at least the book containing them – had been eating away at the thief’s mind for over 40 years.

That’s how long it took for a guilty, unidentified man to return a 200-year-old Bible he says he swiped from a dusty corner of Holy Trinity Church in Hastings, England, in 1971.

According to the Hastings Observer, Church Treasurer Simon Scott received an anonymous, typed letter from Germany explaining the Bible’s intriguing story.

The letter reads: “It may be astonishing to you to receive a letter from one whom you do not know. More than ever to receive a parcel which contains an old Bible. In 1971 I was just married and went with my wife to Hastings to upgrade our English knowledge for a better start in our occupations. The English lesson we had were in some rather old and dark rooms not made for lecturing. The lecturer himself seem to be very old and he had no teaching skills. He confused us totally. So we were very disappointed as we paid a lot of money for the four week course. In this excited moment I made a big mistake. I saw some gorgeous Holy Bibles in a corner underneath a bench. It seemed they were no worth for the community or the church and I took one with me home. It was a compensation for the poor course. In my mind I wanted to read and study chapter by chapter to complete my English. But in reality I did not. Back home I felt my action was not correct. Even more my wife was very angry and tried to persuade me to return the book. This Bible always brought me a guilty conscience. I was too cowardly to hand it over personally. Now I am retired and I make a final impulse to clear my conscience. I deeply regret what I did and can only hope this Bible finds its rightful home again.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Scott received a heavy, unmarked box containing the Bible, which he said “was of little monetary value but came with a major story behind it.”

Holy Trinity is an Anglican church built in 1857 by notable 19th-century English Gothic Revival architect Samuel Sanders Teulon.

Scott, who has been a church member since 1980, told the Observer he hopes the culprit can now sleep easier at night.

He added: “I think he is a God-fearing chap, and this was his attempt at a confession. It must have weighed very heavily on his mind. I’m sure he will be able to rest a little easier in his bed now.”

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