Police say someone has broken into the altar at a New York City church, stole a $2m gold relic and removed the head from a statue of an angel.
The incident happened between 6.30pm last Thursday and 4pm on Saturday, the police said on Monday, at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic church, known as the “Notre Dame” of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.
The church was closed for construction at the time. Camera recordings from the church’s security system were also stolen, the church’s pastor said.
The diocese of Brooklyn called it “a brazen crime of disrespect and hate”.
The diocese said the thief or thieves cut through a metal protective casing, apparently with a specialist saw, and made off with a tabernacle dating to the church’s opening in the 1890s.
The tabernacle, a box containing holy communion items, was made of 18-carat gold and decorated with jewels, police and the diocese said, and is valued at $2m.
The diocese said it is irreplaceable because of its historical and artistic value.
According to a guidebook posted on the church’s website, the tabernacle was built in 1895 and restored in 1952 and 2000.
It is described as a “masterpiece and one of the most expensive tabernacles in the country, guarded by its own security system”, which involves an “electronically operated burglar-proof safe” and one-inch thick steel plates that “completely enclose the tabernacle”.
Angel statues flanking the tabernacle were decapitated and destroyed, the diocese said. A safe in the sacristy, where priests prepare for mass, was also cut open but nothing was inside.
Holy eucharist, bread consecrated as the body of Christ, was taken from the tabernacle and thrown on the altar.
Frank Tumino, the pastor of St Augustine said in a statement issued by the diocese, that the incident was devastating, and added: “To know that a burglar entered the most sacred space of our beautiful Church and took great pains to cut into a security system is a heinous act of disrespect,” Tumino said.