This is the priceless treasure that has been stolen from a UNESCO cathedral in France after thieves rammed its door down and sawed off the metal bars protecting the valuable relics.
The incident took place in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a commune in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department in the region of Bearn in south-western France, not far from Lourdes, when unknown suspects rammed a small medieval door to the right of the main entrance of the cathedral, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
According to local media, they used a car with a tree trunk fixed to it to ram the door. They then made their way inside the holy building and sawed through metal bars that separated the valuable artefacts from the rest of the cathedral.
The suspects allegedly stole “all the valuable gold artefacts on display”, according to Mayor Herve Lucbereilh, some of which are ornate gold crosses, most of them made in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Also missing are priestly vestments from the 16th Century.
Legend has it that these priestly garbs were given to the bishop of the time by King Francois I, who ruled France from 1515 until his death in 1547. The other garbs, reportedly worth less, were not taken.
The suspects then ditched the car – reportedly a Peugeot 106 – at the scene and left in another vehicle, according to reports. The area of town reportedly has lots of CCTV cameras that investigators are analysing. Specialist forensic police from the city of Pau are on the case.
Police were alerted to the incident by locals at around 2am on Sunday night (Monday morning).
France’s Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, said: “I condemn with the utmost firmness the attack perpetrated last night against the cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie and share the emotion of the Catholics of France who are legitimately shocked by this theft and this damage. The guilty will be found and punished.”
Marc Aillet, the Bishop of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron has labelled the theft as “sacrilegious”. He told local media: “These are religious artefacts that have been stolen. In some cases they are still used for religious ceremonies today by the faithful.”
He added: “I would like to thank the authorities for the promptness with which they intervened on the scene. It is now up to them to investigate. I hope that the perpetrators of this crime and the missing artefacts will be found.
“I would like to note that these serious incivilities and this total lack of respect for a sacred heritage are multiplying in France, which leaves one worrying about the deep sense of the values of civilisation which characterises our society.”
The Mayor of Oloron, Herve Lucbereilh, said: “We have lost an irreplaceable collection that we were very fond of.”
The police investigation is ongoing.
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