An invaluable holy relic said to be from the cross Jesus Christ died on has been stolen from an ancient monastery in Ireland.
The miniature artefact brought to Holy Cross Abbey in Thurles, Co Tipperary, in the late 12th century was taken by two masked men on Tuesday in a broad-daylight raid.
Armed with an angle grinder, hammer and screwdriver, the pair stole a gold and bronze cross about 12 inches high with a glass-fronted centrepiece used to hold the relic. It had been stored securely in a steel-bound display case.
Father Tom Breen, parish priest of Holy Cross Abbey, said the relic has been the source of devotion and pilgrimage for the last 900 years.
"I would like to appeal to the thieves in the strongest possible terms not to damage the relic - just leave the artefacts in some church and they will eventually come back to me or we will use a third person," he said.
"It is impossible to put a value on it commercially or an intrinsic value, and from a religious and emotional point of view it is immeasurable. I would in my heart feel that the thieves had no real appreciation of what it is they were taking. I would hope that they didn't have any ulterior motive."
The thieves also got away with a 14th century silver holy cross, again about 12 inches in height, which had been hanging from a chain and contained two crosses and two dark stones.
Gardai said two men who carried out the theft both had their faces covered and openly carried the tools into the church. A parishioner passed the two men in the church before the theft.
The pair left within a few minutes and fled in a red or wine-coloured VW Touareg jeep which was later found burned out. Gardai said a third person had been waiting in the getaway car, which had the partial registration number 06 OY or 06 LK, and went in the direction of Yellow Lough.
The car was discovered a short time later about two to three miles from the scene at the Yellow Lough, Thurles, where it had been set on fire. A dark-coloured saloon car was seen in the vicinity of where the VW Touareg jeep was burnt out, travelling at high speed.