A “unique” carved stone statue dating back to the eighth century has been stolen from a North Yorkshire church in the latest of a series of stone thefts in rural parts of the region.
The “ornate and accomplished” carving was taken between May 23 and June 6 when thieves entered All Saints Church in Hovingham and stole it from the recess of a window.
The theft has left the local church community feeling “slightly violated”, according to one official, who says it calls into question whether the building should be kept open.
It comes after a recent rise in the number of stone thefts across Yorkshire that led one MP to say the region’s heritage was being ‘systematically dismantled’.
North Yorkshire Police say the statue, originally part of a stone cross, dates from the late eighth or early ninth century, and is likely to be contemporary with the shrine panel still preserved in the church.
A force spokesman said: “The stone itself is a sandstone from the quarries at Aislaby near Whitby, demonstrating the links between the Anglo-Saxon church at Hovingham and Whitby Abbey, which owned the quarries and exported stone for sculptural monuments to sites across North and East Yorkshire.
“The piece measures 51 cm high, 23.2cm at its widest, and 12.8cm at its deepest. It is very heavy and will have required a vehicle to remove it.”
Pc Nick Durkin, of Scarborough Police, said: “Experts have described the stolen sculpture as unique in its form, layout and the quality of its carving.
“We are making extensive enquiries to return this important historic artefact to its rightful location, and I would urge anyone who knows its whereabouts to get in touch straight away.”
Anyone with information should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2, and ask for PC Nick Durkin or the Scarborough Investigation Hub, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The theft comes amid fears that rural parts of Yorkshire are being hit by a spate of stone thefts as criminals target homes, schools, farms and churches.
West Yorkshire Police have seen an 18 per cent increase in the theft of Yorkshire stone in the last year.
Jason McCartney, Tory MP for Colne Valley, has warned that his constituency’s heritage is being ‘systematically dismantled’.
During a recent debate on the problem in parliament, Mr McCartney said he was receiving weekly reports of stone thefts from West Yorkshire Police.
He said: “The problem is of epidemic proportions in my constituency, where we have so much wonderful stone, whether it is on pathways or stone walls, or on buildings and places of worship.”
Reverend Martin Allwood, rector of the benefice of the Street parishes, which includes All Saints Church, said: “It certainly has been a bit of a shock to everyone, it has taken everyone a bit by surprise. It is not something you would expect to be taken from a church.
“We have estimated from looking at the stone previously, that it would be around 10kg, it is not something you would expect to just wander off.
“It is a piece of history, we think it was part of an original Celtic cross, we are probably talking about 8th century. This has been there for a very long time.
“There is a sense that we want to keep our buildings open so that people are able to come and worship and be part of the experience and the history.
“Then you are faced with the problem of keeping buildings open in a place where we are, in Hoveringham, there are a reasonable number of people wandering backwards and forwards but not every day, you can’t have people there keeping an eye on things.
“It is a case of, either lock the building to keep the valuables safe and then no-one can use it, or keep it open so people can experience the joy of the building and sadly face the consequences of people lifting the odd piece.
“The sense in the church community is one of being “slightly violated’. We are offering a service to people, keeping these buildings open.”