Priests and gardaí mystified by theft of relics from Holy Cross Abbey

Thu, Oct 13, 2011, 01:00

GARDAÍ AND priests are baffled by the theft from a historic abbey of three relics of the “true cross” on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The priceless artefacts were stolen by a gang of three men on Tuesday evening from Holy Cross Abbey near Cashel in Co Tipperary.

One of the relics, authenticated by the Vatican as a piece of the crucifix used in Christ’s crucifixion, was handed over to the abbey in the 12th century by King Donal Mór O’Brien, while the other two were presented by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1977.

It appears that the gang deliberately targeted the relics. Neither local priests nor investigating gardaí are aware of any market for such items. The 12th-century relic was contained in a silver monstrance (elaborate cross), which itself dates from the 14th century, while the other two pieces are in a cruciform container.

They were locked away in a steel cabinet used to display the items within the abbey, which has itself been a national monument since 1880.

A set of keys for the cabinet was stolen about three weeks ago and, while the locks were changed in the meantime, the men who took the relics used an angle-grinder, hammer and screwdriver to forcibly open the display cabinet.

Parish priest of Holy Cross Fr Tom Breen said the local clergy and parishioners were “devastated”. “People worship or pray before relics for different intentions and, over the centuries, it became a tremendous source of devotion and pilgrimage,” Fr Breen said yesterday. “Even three weeks ago, we had the novena here and there was a great sense of devotion to it.”

He described the theft as “baffling” and appealed to the thieves to return the artefacts. “Maybe they’re under a misapprehension that it was of great commercial value but my plea would be not to damage it and to bring it back.

“It’s very upsetting. I can understand a poor box being rifled but when you take the relic, it’s gone . . . it’s just terrible.”

A garda said the theft was difficult to understand. “They’re not something that could be brought down any day of the week to a car-boot sale, but they obviously knew what they were looking for.”

The theft took place at about 5pm on Tuesday when three men arrived at the abbey in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Two of the men, whose faces were covered, entered the building.

They remained at the scene for a few minutes and were then seen getting into their vehicle, believed to be a wine or red Volkswagen Touareg with an 06 OY or 06 LK registration number. The car was driven towards Yellow Lough near Thurles, where it was set on fire.

Witnesses reported seeing a dark-coloured saloon car being driven at speed near Yellow Lough at about the time the four-wheel drive was burned out.