Thousands of euros worth of chalices and other ecclesiastical vessels were stolen in the early hours of Wednesday morning when two rural Catholic churches near Mullingar were broken into, in a week that saw two similarly sized churches near Tullamore suffer the same fate.
In what was “obviously a well-planned raid”, according to the Gardai, access was gained to Walshestown and Meedin churches by forcing the front doors, before the as yet unvalued chalices, ciboria (the containers used to store communion hosts ), as well as a communion paten, or plate were taken.
In the case of Meedin church, Rochfortbridge, the entire tabernacle, which was locked and contained ciboria and consecrated communion hosts, was removed by force, damaging the surrounding railings and marble. Confessional boxes in both churches were also vandalised.
Scenes of crime investigators spent most of Wednesday at both locations collecting and collating all forensic evidence.
While the monetary value of the stolen goods and the damage to the churches has yet to be quantified, Rev Padraig Corcoran, chaplain of the church at Walshestown, Mullingar, confirmed that one of the stolen chalices dated from 1906. Brand new chalices can cost anything in the region of several hundred up to thousands of euros.
Fr Corcoran added that the perpetrators had forced open two sets of the church doors as well as the sacristy door and cupboard doors, causing extensive damage.
Meanwhile parish priest of Rochfortbridge, Rev William Coleman, who moved to the parish only a month ago, said the sacred aspect of the crimes was more upsetting than the monetary impact.
“It is so shocking. It is the desecration too, as the ciboria had hosts in them. I don’t know if the tabernacle was taken just because it was locked and presumed valuable. The value is sacred and religious rather than monetary,” he said.
With similar raids occurring recently in churches in Ballycumber and Durrow, Co Offaly, implying a good knowledge of local roads, Gardai believe the thefts were “well planned”.
“We’re appealing for anyone with any information or who noticed any suspicious activity on the night in question, or especially on the days prior to the thefts,” a Garda spokesman told The Advertiser.
“We would urge anyone to report any suspicious activity in the vicinity of these churches. This is a terrible crime,” he added.
Anyone with any information in regard to these incidents is asked to contact Mullingar Gardai at (044 ) 9384000.