Saturday, March 10, 2012

Relic Robbing: Church’s Medieval Treasures in Jeopardy?

The theft of a medieval relic from a church in Ireland earlier this week is raising questions about the security of these places of worship and the safety of the items held within them.

On Saturday morning, church officials in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral discovered that the preserved heart of St Laurence O’Toole (d.1180) had been stolen. Church dean Rev. Dermot Dunne said, “It’s just unthinkable that someone should steal something like that,” but this theft is just one of an increasing number of robberies that are taking place in churches.

Other Irish churches have been targeted in recent months – a rare Celtic-designed reliquary, worth €10,000, was ripped out of the wall at St Brigid’s Church in Killester, Co Dublin (fortunately the saint’s relic had been removed earlier for conservation work), while a piece of the True Cross was taken from Holycross Abbey, but was later returned. Meanwhile, the Codex Calixtinus, a 12th-century manuscript, was stolen from Santiago de Compostela last year, making international headlines. The theft of medieval relics is not just occurring in Europe – last year it was reported that a 780-year old relic purported to be part of Saint Anthony of Padua, (the patron saint of lost things) was stolen from a church in Long Beach, California.

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