Showing posts with label Church Theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church Theft. Show all posts

November 4, 2019

Monday, November 04, 2019 - ,, No comments

The cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie was attacked in a smash and grab


In the early morning of November 4th, robbers committed a smash and grab robbery at the Cathedral Sainte-Marie d'Oloron located in the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.  Awakened to the sounds of a Viking-inspired battering ram, nearby neighbors reported the ruckus to the local gendarmes who responded quickly, but not before the thieves had made their getaway.


Upon arrival, law enforcement discovered that the culprits had used a tree trunk mounted onto a vehicle, to break open a small door to the right of the cathedral's main entrance.  Clergy from the 12th century UNESCO World Heritage Site have stated that the culprits then sawed through metal bars and broke into storage cabinetry, taking only things they could easily and quickly carry such as ciboriums, chalices, and cruets.  The accomplices, believed to be three men, abandoned the car used to break their way into the church, leaving the crime scene in a second vehicle.  

Given the tools required to cut through metal bars and the time it would take to mount something on to an automobile to break through a solid door, it appears that the robbers were well prepared and knew precisely what they wanted to take and how they could gain entry into the historic church.


This morning, Hervé Lucbéreilh, the mayor of Oloron, spoke publicly about the attack. 


By: Vittoria Ricci

October 22, 2019

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - ,, No comments

Maltese Priest sentenced for the theft of sacred church art


Fr. Deo Debono, the suspended priest from the Provincial Parish church of the Augustinians in Malta, has pled guilty during his arraignment to charges stemming from the theft of sacred art.  Asked by Magistrate Ian Farrugia if he was certain he wanted to enter a plea of guilty, Fr. Debono spoke briefly with his attorney and then affirmed his guilty plea in the theft of paintings and religious objects for services. Magistrate Farrugia then handed down a two-year jail term suspended for four years and ordered Debano to pay €9,500 to the third-party victim of fraud who had purchased the paintings in good faith, unaware that they had been stolen. 

Prior to his arrest, the popular priest told friends about missing paintings at the church and indicated that he suspected workmen from a restoration project.  Debono's story began to unravel when a thurible and an incense boat from the nun's cloister turned up at the Maltese Antiquarian Shop for €3,500 and someone notified the mother superior of the cloistered Augustinian nuns’ convent.  Police then contacted the shop, who had not suspected the priest given his position at the church. 

Augustinian Father Leslie Gatt, has stated that the provincial authorities of the church order  are still considering the way forward regarding the the priest's role in the order following his guilty please. 

September 21, 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019 - ,, No comments

Suspended Maltese parish priest arrested for church-related art thefts

St Augustine Church
Image Credit: NICPMI archive
A Maltese parish priest has been suspended from his duties pending the outcome of an investigation by police into his alleged involvement in the thefts of paintings and ecclesiastical property taken from  the Baroque church of St. Augustine in Valletta where he served. 

The Provincial Parish church of the Augustinians in Malta and and its adjoining convent are listed on the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands (NICPMI), a heritage register which lists the cultural property of Malta under the responsibility of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) which was founded in 2002 to replace Malta's Antiquities Act.   The original church was built between 1571 and 1596 by Gerolamo Cassar, then demolished after the 1693 earthquake and rebuilt between 1765 and 1785.

Some of the stolen items, which included four oil paintings and six etchings, were taken in early February 2019 from the cloister used by the Augustinian nuns, perhaps in a period when areas of the church were undergoing repairs. The thefts were initially identified during an inventory conducted by the church's archivist, Fr Alex Cauchi, who discovered that certain hanging paintings and engravings at the property did not correspond with the inventory of the valuables located in the convent. To hide the criminal activity the thief or thieves had replaced the stolen paintings with other artworks hoping that the switch would go unnoticed, or at least delay any subsequent investigation.

Image Credit: St Augustine Priory in Valletta
In what appears to have been a separate theft, police from the cultural property section traced a thurible, a metal censer suspended from chains in which incense is burned during worship services, as well as an incense holder from the St. Augustine priory to a shop in Valletta.  Questioning the proprietor, the police were led to the parish priest when the owner of the shop reported to them that he had purchased the ecclesiastical items from Fr. Deo Debono for approximately € 2,000. 

Image credit: Deo Debomo
Facebook Page
During his subsequent interrogation, Fr. Debono admitted to his involvement in the theft of paintings and the ecclesiastical silver items which had been taken from the top floor of the Augustinian Convent.  According to police sources cited by the Times of Malta, following a lengthy talk with police, Debono confessed to the crime and law enforcement officers subsequently recovered seven of the church's stolen objects.  As a result, Debano is to be arraigned in court on Monday, September 23, 2019 on formal charges of theft. 

Malta's specialised cultural property police unit was set up in 2005 and has worked on many church related theft cases.  Some of the recent church related cases which they have solved include the theft of a painting by Antonio Falzon dating back to 1861 stolen from the Ta’ Ġieżu Church, Valletta in February 2012, the theft of an antique chalice stolen from the Safi parish church and the theft of an ecclesiastical vase taken from Stella Maris parish church, both in August 2014,  the theft of a silver vase stolen from St Paul’s Church in Valletta in February 2015 and another vase taken from St Publius parish church in Floriana in April 2015.

Open to the public, churches and temples often lack the funds for robust security, making them more vulnerable for heritage crimes, though it is not often that they are tied to clergy and are often crimes of opportunity.  In addition to the thefts from St. Augustine, Malta's Cultural Property Crime Unit is also investigating several other church thefts in Malta including: the theft of ecclesiastical items from the Church in Cospicua and the Zejtun Church, and the theft of two bells from the chapel in Għaxaq. 

March 2, 2018

Museum Theft: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza - Faenza, Italy

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
Crucifixion and descent into limbo
panel painting, 35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza
Discovered missing on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza has been reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.

The oldest Museum in Faenza, established in 1797, when the municipality purchased Giuseppe Zauli's art collection, the Pinacoteca's core collection centers on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century. The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ on the top portion of the panel and his descent into limbo on the bottom.  The framed panel had been on public display in the Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel on Monday who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  


Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under  the thief's winter clothing at some point during museum opening hours though the date of the theft itself still unclear. 


This is the third theft of sacred art in Italy to have occured in a one week period.  All three thefts have occured in the region of Emilia-Romagna. 

During an early morning religious service at the Chiesa del Suffragio in Rimini a thief or thieves stole the crown and veil of a Madonna, Our Lady of Sorrows,  a statue dating back to the 1700s from the Church’s main nave.  The theft apparently occurred while mass was taking place in a smaller adjoining side chapel. 

An almost identical theft took also was carried out at the Cathedral of Cervia,  in the province of Ravenna, where the crown adorning a statue of Our Lady of Fire also disappeared.

Two of these thefts, the one in Faenza and Cervia both occurred in the province of Ravenna.  The third theft in Rimini occured in a coastal town in the same region (Emilia-Romagna). 

Director Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza believes the theft from his museum gallery is indisputably a theft to order, given the object is well documented in public records and would be unsellable on the licit art market. If his assumption is correct, and coupled with these other two thefts, the string of the events seem to illustrate an interesting organizational structure to a coordinated series of thefts, likely committed to sustain the black market for religious art.

The theft is being investigated by the Carabinieri. 

September 15, 2017

Recovery: Not all Ecclesiastical art that is stolen is lost forever



The brisk sales of "Individual A" buying objects from "Individual B"

As a result of the complex operation, twenty people are now under investigation by the Italian authorities for robbery, having received stolen goods, or other related violations of the law.  Those that have been charged, some with no prior police records, include middlemen fences who shopped desirable pieces to collectors of religious art who were apparently disinterested in the conspicuous origins of the ecclesiastical pieces they were purchasing.

Modus Operendi

Working to analyze the methodologies used to commit thefts in places of worship in neighboring municipalities, law enforcement officers saw a pattern evolving. 

Each of the thefts had occurred during daytime hours. 

Most of the incidents did not require any type of forced entry. 

To gain access to the objects the thief or thieves preferred to go about their work during opening hours, when the general public had free access to these religious institutions and where they were less likely to be impeded by burglar alarms or video surveillance systems.

Objects Recovered

The objects identified as recovered during this operation is quite extensive and paints a vivid picture of the frequency of church related thefts throughout Italy and in one case Belgium.

One of the more interesting pieces recovered was a 175 × 125 cm a 16th century Flemish panel painting stolen 37 years ago depicting the twelfth station of the cross.  The painting had been taken from the Treasury of the Collegiate of the Church of Sainte-Waudru in Mons, Belgium on July 2, 1980.   Thankfully the church had an inventory of their artworks so the alterpiece has been matched precisely and will be repatriated.

A white marble sculpture depicting a Madonna and child dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century stolen on July 4, 1997 from the church "Santa Marta" (Confraternity Of San Vitale) in Naples.

An 18th century wooden statue, depicting "San Biagio" stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

An 18th century wooden statue of Saint Nicholas of Bari stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

A 16th century stone statue of St Michael the Archangel,  a sword in silver with an ornate blade and a silver oval shield decorated with words "quis ut Deus" stolen on January 19 2016 from the church of San Michele Arcangelo in Monteroduni.

Fifteen 16th century oil paintings on canvas, mounted to panels depicting "The Mysteries of the Rosary", stolen on December 21, 2016 from the Church of Saint Bartolomeo Apostolo in Cassano Irpino.

Two 17th century wooden statues depicting angels, a 17th century gilded throne used for Eucharistic ceremonies, stolen on November 28, 1998 from La Libera church in Montella.

A 19th century monstrance, also known as an ostensorium or an ostensory, in embossed silver stolen on October 11, 2009 from the church "Santa Cristina" in Formicola.

A wooden statue of the baby Jesus and a silver embossed thurible in which incense is burned during worship services, stolen on March 3, 2016 from the church Saint Peter the Apostle in Sala Consilina.

A late 17th century panel painting depicting a river landscape with animals French stolen on July 16, 1990 at the Rome auction house Antonina dal 1890.

A 19th century painted paper mache statue of baby Jesus stolen on January 5, 2010 from the Cathedral of San Cassiano in Imola.

An 18th century silver monstrance, an 18th century silver reliquary with a stippled glass case, an 18th century metal reliquary, stolen on February 10, 2016 from the church of San Lorenzo located in Castelvetere sul Calore.

An 18th century breastplate with helmet, shield and sword, decorated in gold, which once served as ornamentation to a San Costanzo statue was stolen on January 10, 2016 in a burglary of the parish of "Santa Maria Maggiore" in Itri. NOTE:  Many of the other items stolen during this raid have not been recovered.

Two 19th century gilded wood reliquaries stolen on August 25, 2002 from the church of San Giacomo Apostolo in Gaeta.

Four carved and gilded wooden portapalma (holy) vases  stolen on January 31, 2012 from the church of San Francisco in Gubbio.

A gold plated cup,  a gold plated ciborium with matching lid used for eucharistic ceremonies stolen on January 12, 2016 from the church of Saint Lucia located in Olevano sul Tusciano - Salitto fraction.

A pendulum clock with bronze lyre-shaped inlays stolen on August 25, 1994 from a private residence in Rome.

A 19th century paper mache figurine depicting the Christ child stolen on November 5, 2009 from the church of Saint Augustine in Faenza.

Two 18th century winged putti, stolen on January 5, 2016 from the church of Saints John and Paul in Carinola (Ce) - Casale fraction.

An 18th century oil painting on canvas depicting baby Jesus lying with crown of flowers stolen on August 14, 1994 from a private residence in Lanciano.

An 18th century monstrance with silver and gold metal cross stolen September 29, 2015 from the church Santa Maria dell’orazione located in Pontelatone.

An 18th century chalice embossed and engraved in silver stolen on July 15, 2015 from the church of San Quirico and Julietta located in Serra San Quirico (An).

A 19th century monstrance in embossed silver stolen on January 20, 2016 from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli located in Contursi Terme..

An 18th century silver reliquary engraved with "nm" stolen on October 4, 2011 from the parish of "Santa Maria Assunta" in Filettino.

February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'

------------------------------------

Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

December 19, 2016

Who saves the culture of Mesopotamia and the Levant - Part I

In the first of a series, ARCA will be highlighting some of the people on a mission to protect and/or seize back the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, from those who seek to profit from or destroy it.

Since the start of the conflict, ARCA has received frequent queries from people concerned about the theft and destruction of sites throughout the Levant.  Often we are asked if anything is doing about the situation. While the form of the question often is posed in the singular format of what is anyone doing specifically about ISIS, ARCA would like to underscore that the problem of looting and destruction is not restricted to one identifiable nemesis operating in conflict zones, although Da'esh has been particularly adept at making a public display of its iconoclasm. 

Today's blog post highlights one forward-thinker in Iraq, who has show what can be done, if people think about a problem in advance of when they are actually faced with one. 

On July 20, 2014 jihadist troops of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah, a monastery located near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, 30 km southwest of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq.  The site dates back to the 4th century CE.   

Occupying the site, the militants ejected the Syriac Orthodox monks with nothing more than the clothing on their backs, refusing to allow them to take any of the church's sacred objects.  In fear for their lives, the monastery's guardians were forcefully ejected and walked some ten kilometers before intersecting with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  

On Thursday, March 19, 2015 ISIS fighters released footage which showed that they had rigged the tombs of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah with explosives, dramatically detonating the monastery's revered historic shrines.    

Image Credit: Alsumaria News 
While the church at the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah itself was not earmarked for detonation along with its shrines, the historic site would did suffer extensive vandalism.  During its occupation, religious wall decorations were drilled out, and/or defaced. Inscriptions written in Syriac were scraped off the walls, crosses were taken down, and statues knocked to the ground and smashed. Throughout the monastery extensive graffiti was scrawled on practically every available surface.

The statue of Mar Behnam on horseback, dating from the 16th century,
has been completely destroyed
Sadly, as the desecration took place after the dramatic footage of the damages to the Mosul Museum and just before the demolition of Nimrud, the world's press gave the monastery's fate little in the way of press coverage.  Those that research iconoclasm tried to take limited comfort in the knowledge that some of the monastery's important manuscripts, dating back centuries, had been digitized. 

Dr. Lamia al-Gailanim, an associate fellow at the London-based Institute of Archaeology, reminded list-serv members of the Iraqi crisis group that Mosul had twelve Medieval shines with muqarnas domes.  In total, the exquisite remains accounted for half of what the country of Iraq had in terms of this specific style of monumental vaulted architecture.  By 2015, as Da'esh gained more and more territory, all the Mosul-area domed shrines suffered attacks.

On Sunday, November 20, 2016 the Baghdad-backed Babylon Brigades in cooperation with the Iraqi army liberated the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah and the world got its first look at the damages inflicted. It is believed that the militants may have occupied the site as a base of operations and some news reports have said the site was utilized by Da'esh's morality police. Whatever the case, the group's trademark shows throughout the trashed the interior.

As the mixed military force secured the site and the zones surrounding the monastery, the first photos of the extent of the rampage were released on social media.  Little had been spared.  Even the grave marker for Monsignor Francis Djahola, who was a well known part of the monastery religious community until his recent death, had been desecrated.

Father Yousif Sakat
Then, on December 9, 2016, those affiliated with the monastery announced something joyfully unexpected. 

Thanks to the forward thinking of Father Yousif Sakat, over 400 books and manuscripts, some illustrated by hand and dating back 800 years, had been kept safe.  Miraculously, they had been hidden directly under the noses of the militants. 

As a custodian for the monastery’s Medieval collection, Father Sakat knew that if he abandoned the monastery and left the library collection behind, it would be vulnerable to destruction or potential looting.  Sakat watched as the situation grew increasingly tense and as the nearby cities succumbed to the rule of ISIS.  As the militants grew bolder, he noted that individuals had defaced the monastery’s exterior and on occasion, hurled stones at the building to intimidate its occupants. 

Anticipating that the jihadist would eventually take control of the monastery and knowing that they might set fire to the collection, Sakat started to think about what he could do to protect the collection himself.

The fast-thinking priest moved the monastery's most important books and manuscripts into metal drums. He then placed these containers in a discreet area where he hoped they would avoid suspicion.  He then sealed the hiding place shut with a wall of concealing cement.

In December 2016, once the father felt sure the site was no longer at risk of possible recapture, he and a team of workers returned to recover the books from their hidden storage chamber.

Publishing the extraction on Facebook Amjad Hinawi uploaded 49 images of the remarkable books as the room was breached and reopened and the collection retrieved. ARCA has posted a selection of these photos here with the group's permission.


Just as the 72-year-old librarian from Mali successfully saved his own country's collection by stuffing them into millet bags and smuggling them out of harm's way, Father Sakat's ingenuity shows that a lot can be done, even when practically everything else has been lost. 

Having said that, there is a palpable urgency to better preserve these rich and varied historic collections, especially those at smaller religious sites, with little means and funding.  It is no longer cost prohibitive to digitize and catalog literary historic records and vulnerable sites such as these need to consider what potential risks their might be, now or in the future to their original collections.

Consideration before a threat occurs.

Just asking the simple question what are we doing about this (now), followed by what can be done better (before a threat or crisis occurs) in a first step in emergency preparedness.   Even in times of economic hardship or political unrest cultural heritage institutions with limited staff can make a world of difference to an otherwise grim outcome.

Luckily, the collection from the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah was not stored inside the shrines that Da'esh detonated.

Luckily, many of its manuscripts were already digitized.

Luckily, Father Yousif Sakat had the foresight, time and the means to purchase and use the supplies needed to hide his monastery's collection.

But what if any one of those things hadn't happened?

For now, the library of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah are being stored elsewhere for safekeeping.


November 7, 2016

Missing: "Pardon of Assisi" (1631) by French painter Jean Lhomme

Yesterday's local news in Italy reported that a painting, commissioned by Pope Urban VII, has disappeared following the earthquake that struck the Church of Santo Stefano, located in the zone of Nottoria, 13 km from Norcia in central Italy. 


The large altar painting, "Pardon of Assisi" is 193 x 142 cm in dimension and was painted by the French painter Jean L'homme in 1631. The first publicized images of the artwork related to the possible theft were posted by Professor Alberto D'Atanasio on Facebook October 06, 2016.   


The incident is currently being investigated by the Perugia division of Italy's Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela del Patrimonio.  Initial reports seemed to indicate that perhaps there was a possibility that the artwork had been moved elsewhere for safekeeping, albeit without stellar coordination.  This morning however, Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted Don. Marco Rufini, the priest responsible for the church as saying he thinks the work was stolen by professionals.  The priest is quoted in the newspaper's article as saying:

"Lo hanno staccato dal supporto, lo hanno messo in terra, quindi hanno tagliato lateralmente la tela per separarla dalla cornice", riferisce il parroco di Norcia." [“They have taken the painting down from its support, putting it on the ground, then they have cut the canvas to separate it from the frame.”]

While cutting a painting from the frame doesn't necessarily indicate the work of professionals, (many stolen paintings taken from bumbling as well as professional thieves have suffered similar destructive fates), the current notification seems to suggest an actual theft may have occurred and that perhaps the artwork was not merely removed for safekeeping.

Italians have an interesting word for thieves that opportunistically loot during miseries of others.  They are called "gli sciacalli" "the jackals" an apropos name for anyone who would stoop so low as to destroy what mother nature itself hasn't already destroyed. 


Video taken during this RAI3 interview with Don. Marco Rufini clearly shows the church's level of destruction following the October earthquakes and the fact that there appears to have been, at the time of this filming, at least one additional artwork still on exhibition and potentially exposed to the elements inside the severely damaged church.  This situation lends support to the fact that the painting was likely accessible to opportunistic looters, now it will be up to law enforcement to discover who they were.

If the painting has in fact been stolen, the thief, or thieves, could be prosecuted article 624bis of the Italian Penal Code, and under Article 61 and 625 of the Criminal Code.



By:  Lynda Albertson