In the space of just two weeks communion silver from churches in Dorset, Suffolk and Lancashire has been taken. The mode of entry and behaviour by the criminals has led to concerns the same gang could be responsible.
Police, insurers and the Church of England have warned other churches to be vigilant.
Thefts from churches had recently focused on stealing lead from roofs but these recent incidents have involved antiques.
At the Lady St Mary Church in Wareham, Dorset, 26 items were stolen, including the Elizabethan chalice.
Thieves broke a leaded glass window, climbed in and opened the doors from the inside before breaking into every locked door inside the church using angle grinders or a jemmy.
After initial attempts to drill the safe open failed, the burglars used explosives to blow up the locking mechanism. All electrical wires were cut to disable security devices and a lubricant such as WD40 was used to prevent fingerprints being found.
Canon Simon Everett said: “I am most grateful to the Antiques Trade Gazette for highlighting this theft and violation of our parish church, and I hope that in doing so at least some of the articles that were stolen may be recovered. We live in hope.”
The Wareham theft took place overnight on April 14-15 and anyone with information should contact Dorset police quoting crime reference number DOR-20230415-0158.
Cross and lectern taken
In Suffolk a theft took place between April 9-11 at St Mary’s Church in Burstall, near Hadleigh when a Victorian cross and a lectern were stolen. Anyone with information should contact Suffolk police quoting crime reference number 37/21402/23.
Also in Suffolk, following a burglary at St Michael’s Church in Woolverstone on April 18, a number of items are missing including five brass candlesticks, two brass vases, two small brass organ candelabra and brass candlestick cups. Anyone with information should contact Suffolk police quoting crime reference number 23388/23.
In Lancashire on April 10-11 at St Mary’s Church in Goosnargh near Preston offenders drilled out the locks on two safes, stole cash and “multiple silverware items of significant value”.
Lancashire Police acknowledged this theft could be linked to similar offences at other churches. A spokesperson said: “We are aware that there have been burglaries at churches in other parts of the country and we are linked in with the forces involved.”
They added: “We ask antiques dealers and those attending antiques fairs and auctions to be vigilant with regards to property which might have been stolen in burglaries at churches.
“If they are suspicious that items they see are stolen, please report it to police. We want to see items returned to their rightful owners.”
A full list of the stolen items from Lady St Mary Church, Wareham is here.