PARIS — A cathedral in southwestern France was robbed of chalices and other religious items after a gang rammed open the door of the church with a specially outfitted car early in the morning of Nov. 4.
At approximately 2am, a car outfitted with a battering ram was driven into the door of Cathedral Sainte-Marie d’Oloron, breaking it open. The cathedral is in the French town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, about 30 miles from the Spanish border and located along the Camino de Santiago, a traditional pilgrimage route to the tomb of St. James.
Once inside the cathedral, the thieves made their way to the chapel, where many sacred and liturgical items were stored. The thieves proceeded to saw down the iron bars that were protecting the cathedral’s chalices, ciboriums and other objects used in the Mass.
Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne and Oloron said the crime was a “sacrilegious robbery since they are objects of worship, some of which are still used today in certain great circumstances.”
In addition to the religious items, a centuries-old Nativity scene and vestments were also taken. It appears as though the thieves had made a prior visit to the cathedral and were well-prepared for the crime.
Local residents were awakened by the crash and raised the alarm, but the police were unable to apprehend any of the culprits or recover any of the stolen items. The witnesses said there were three thieves, who escaped in another vehicle.
There was no description of the intruders provided to media, and there has not been any public speculation regarding a motive. Authorities have said that an investigation is ongoing.
The cathedral was built in the 12th century and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. According to the BBC, Monday’s robbery marks the first time the cathedral has been attacked in its history.
Herve Lucbereilh, the mayor of Oloron, said in a video statement that the theft was damaging to the town and that the items taken carried significant emotional and cultural value to residents, as well.
The objects taken “are part of the imagination of the Oloronese, of their history, of their roots,” said Lucbereilh. “It’s as if a part of their heart had been torn out.”
The attack on the cathedral in Oloron is the latest in a wave of church attacks and robberies in France. In 2018, there were 129 thefts and 877 incidents of vandalism at Catholic sites in France, a number that was quadruple that of 2008.
For the first three months of 2019, there were a reported 228 “violent anti-Christian acts” in the country.