A group of masked criminals used a car to ram through the doors of the Oloron-Sainte-Marie cathedral, before going on to steal several liturgical objects and beheading a statue of Saint Bernadette last Sunday night.
The thieves used a tree trunk attached to a Peugot 106 to break down the doors of the cathedral – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – that dated back to the Middle Ages, Le Parisien reports.
Upon arriving at the scene, police discovered the bandits had stolen several religious objects including gold chalices, crosses, and a monstrance, as well as a cape, and a ‘centerpiece of the clothing collection’.
Before fleeing the scene, the criminals abandoned the car they had used to ram through the cathedral’s front door.
For now, ‘it is still too early to make a precise financial estimate of the losses,’ said Laurent Paris, the director of general services.
“Beyond the market value, the residents find themselves cut off from a part of their history and heritage,” Paris added.
While commenting on the incident, Oleron’s mayor, Hervé Lucbereilh, mentioned that bandits had also smashed a vase and a statue, but luckily hadn’t touched the sacred relics of San Grato di Aosta.
Minister of Culture Franck Riester condemned the senseless attacks ‘with the utmost firmness’, adding that ‘perpetrators will be found and punished’.
“I share the emotion of the Catholics of France who are legitimately shocked by this theft and these degradations,” Reister said.
In the past months and years, France has seen a significant uptick in the number of acts of vandalism and outright attacks against its churches and cathedrals.
The month of March alone saw the historic Church of St. Sulpice in Paris set ablaze, the statues of saints and crosses at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur smashed, as well as a cross smeared with human excrement and the altar looted at the church of Notre-Dame des Enfants in Nimes.
This isn’t the first time this happens. Catholic churches in France are being targeted with arson attacks, vandalism, desecration of holy statues, and the destruction of the Eucharist. The attacks have been happening since the start of the year.