At Large  November 6, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Drive-Thru Art Heist: Thieves Crash Car into Cathedral

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Cathédrale Oloron-Sainte-Marie
 

Using a tree trunk strapped the roof of their car, a daring group of thieves made a dramatic entrance into a rural French cathedral Monday morning.

Their modern take on a battering ram was perhaps appropriate for the Medieval former cathedral whose construction began in the 12th century. Damaged by fires in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Oloron-Sainte-Marie was fully rebuilt in the 19th century. Located in the southwestern corner of France, bordering the Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean, it was once a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella in nearby Spain. A Roman Catholic church, it is in the Romanesque and Gothic architectural style, and was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998.

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The imposing cathedral boasts an elaborate Baroque pipe organ dating to 1650. It’s most notable feature is an elaborately carved portal that has survived since the 12th century. The sculpted entryway depicts the crucifixion and other biblical scenes, as well as images from everyday life in the region, like boar hunting.

Thankfully, this invaluable work is well-attached to the building, because the thieves made quick and efficient work of their attack, smashing the glass of displays and sawing through steel bars to get at valuable religious objects. Alarms sounded at 2 am, and witnesses saw the three thieves flee in a second vehicle, but authorities were too late.

According to the AFP, their priceless loot included ornate gold crosses, chalices in silver and gold, and valuable vestiments that were gifts from King Francois in the 16th century. Some of the stolen items were still in use, leading the local Bishop, Marc Aillet, to describe the theft as “sacrilegious.”

France’s Minister of Culture condemned the attack in a tweet and vowed to find and punish the perpetrators.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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