BANGALORE, India (CNS) — Three historic relics of crucifixion preserved at a 10th-century church under the Syro-Malabar Irinjalakuda Diocese in India’s Kerala state were discovered missing Nov. 30.
Police are investigating the disappearance of the relics from the Holy Cross Shrine Church Mapranum in Irinjalakuda.
“Everyone is stunned here as the sacred relics have been stolen,” Bishop Pauly Kannookadan of Irinjalakuda told Catholic News Service Dec. 1.
The stolen relics include what is believed to be a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, a blood stain of Christ and a piece of the towel with which his face was wiped during the Passion.
The shrine houses a letter from Pope Leo XIII confirming the authenticity of the relics that reached the church in September 1887.
“We have no clue regarding this theft,” said Bishop Kannookadan, who spent several hours Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the shrine where hundreds of stunned faithful gathered.
Father Joji Kallingal, vicar of the parish that was elevated as a shrine in 2008, told CNS that the parish sacristan noticed the theft when he opened the church early Nov. 30.
“They (thieves) did not touch the offertory box with a lot of cash,” the priest said. “They also uprooted the centuries old five-metal cross on top of the tabernacle but did not take it away.”
Built in 928, the shrine is one of the oldest Catholic churches in India. Its archaeological department oversees the preservation of historical parts of the old church, which was largely dismantled in 1989 to make way for a spacious new church.
Since police collected fingerprints from the altar shortly after the theft was discovered, pilgrims have offered prayers continuously seeking the return of the relics.
Police officials hinted that the theft of the sacred relics, venerated by many including Hindus and Muslims, was the handiwork of black magicians who thrive in the area.
However, M. P. Dinesh, superintendent of police in the Thrissur district of Kerala under which Mapranam falls, told CNS Dec. 1 that investigators had no “specific clue yet about the identity and motive behind the crime.”