Police say someone busted into the altar at a New York City church, stole a $2 million gold relic and removed the head from a statue of an angel at some point late last week. The incident happened between 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Saturday at St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, known as the "Notre Dame" of Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.
"We all just thought that a sacred space would never be violated," Rev. Frank Tumino, the church's pastor,.
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 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. It's valued at $2 million.
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's 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.
"This is devastating, as the Tabernacle is the central focus of our church outside of worship, holding the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, which is delivered to the sick and homebound," Rev. Tumino said. "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."
To parishioners, it was a piece of history and invaluable.
"This is such a shock. It's such an act of evil," Sharon Dawson told CBS New York.
One statue of an angel was destroyed and another was damaged. There are security cameras at the church, but Tumino said the DVR with the video was also taken.
"It had to be someone who knew something inside," parishioner David Flowers said.
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