Thieves stole 17th Century armour from a Northumberland church and damaged its famous alterpiece.
A helmet worn by a member of the famous Forster family of Bamburgh, said to be worth £10,000-£12,000, was taken from St Aidan’s Church in the village, where it had been on display for over four centuries.
A pair of ancient metal gauntlets or armoured gloves from the same suit of armour were also stolen.
In the process, thieves caused around £5,000 worth of damage to an ancient alterpiece which features statues of celebrated Northumbrian kings and saints.
The theft between April and July but clergy and parishioners did not notice until Friday.
They are now in the process of contacting couples who married in the church during that period and asking for photos to allow them to establish exactly when it occurred.
The lobster pot-style armoured helmet, similar to a Civil War roundhead-style, was part of a suit of armour won by teenager Ferdinand Foster, a member of the famous Bamburgh family, as were the gauntlets or gloves.
Both had hung in St Aidan’s for over 400 years.
The theft was spotted at 4.55pm on Friday, although it is said to have happened between midnight on April 26 and July 25. Canon Brian Hurst, vicar of Bamburgh, said: “Familiarity breeds contempt. You kind of do not see when your best friend shaves his beard off.
“You do not see the obvious if you are too close. Me and all the congregation, we are kind of familiar with this thing though it is raised up slightly so you have to make an effort to look at it.
“The gap was spotted by a chap who is particularly interested in Jacobean things and pointed out that there was less armour than there had been previously.”
A photo Canon Hurst has from April 26 shows the armour all present and correct but a picture from July 25 reveals the items missing.
The helmet alone is said to be worth £10,000 to £12,000.
The vicar told how thieves had clambered up on the Reredos, a “famous” alterpiece dating from the 1890s bearing stone statues of Northumbrian saints and kings, causing it around £5,000 damage.
The church has an open door policy and Canon Hurst believes the thieves must have struck during one of its rare quiet moments as they would have been noticed clambering up the alterpiece at a busy time.
Canon Hurst and parishioners are now in the process of contacting those couples who have married at St Aidan’s between April and July and asking to see their photos from inside the church, to help them establish exactly when the theft occurred.
He said: “It has obviously been in the village for all those years so it is kind of irreplaceable.
“I am surprised that somebody first of all has had the courage to clamber up the Reredos and also to do it with the possibility of being caught red handed.”
Northumbria Police is appealing for any witnesses to the theft or anyone who knows of the items’ whereabouts to come forward.
People can contact officers on 101, extension 69191, quoting log number 877 15/08/14, or the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.