The Oloron Cathedral was broken into with a tree attached to a car, the burglars beheading a statue of Saint Bernadette and stealing religious items.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary in Oloron-Sainte-Marie is in southwestern France, a favorite stopover for Catholic pilgrims headed for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain as its only 30 miles from the border. Its Romanesque and Gothic construction started in the 12th century, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

On Monday around 2 a.m., a car with a tree trunk attached to it as a makeshift battering ram drove into the church doors, breaking them open. Inside, masked burglars smashed vases and beheaded a statue of Saint Bernadette.

They sawed through iron bars to steal a monstrance, gold chalices, ciboriums, a 17th-century nativity scene, gold crosses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and vestments given to the local bishop by King Francois I in the 16th century.

Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne and Oloron condemned their actions as a “sacrilegious robbery.”

“These are religious artifacts that have been stolen. In some cases they are still used for religious ceremonies today by the faithful.’ 

France’s Minister of Culture Franck Riester vowed that the attackers would be “found and punished.”

“I condemn with the utmost firmness the attack perpetrated against the cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie and share the emotion of the Catholics of France who are shocked by this theft.”

The attack on the Oloron Cathedral is just the latest in a wave across France. In 2018 alone, there 129 thefts and 877 acts of vandalism at Catholic sites, figures quadruple from 2008. In the first three months of 2019, there 228 were “violent anti-Christian acts” in the country.

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