THE congregation of a Doncaster village church has been left devastated after a gang of thieves struck a double blow.
Thieves broke in by candlelight to take invaluable silver artefacts from the vestry of St Mary Magdalene Church at Campsall in a night raid.
To add insult to injury they also stripped lead from the roof of the 12th century church on the village High Street.
Insurance assessors are still calculating the cost of the losses but it will run into many thousands of pounds. The burglars got into the church by removing a small window at the rear and then one of the bars across it, and then spent a considerable amount of time searching the building for valuables.
Police today appealed for information about the burglary and released photos of some of the items stolen.
Detectives are asking the public to be vigilant and to contact them if they come across any of the items.
Some members of the church believe the silver chalices, plates and communion set will already have been melted down for their silver value.
Church warden June Jordan, who helps look after St Mary Magdalene following the retirement of the vicar last year, said: “It’s very distressing. Our reaction is one of shock and disbelief that somebody would want to steal religious artefacts. They will be difficult to sell so we fear they could already have been melted down. That would be sacrilege.”
The raid was discovered when workmen cutting the churchyard grass noticed a window had been removed.
When church wardens entered the building they found the vestry had been stripped of the valuables - some dating back to the 18th century - and the safe had been forced open.
The intruders had lit candles to see their way around and to carry out a thorough search.
“The used candles were everywhere,” said June. “We think they spent quite a long time inside. The back of the church is very secluded and no-one in the village was aware it was happening.
“They must have brought a vehicle to carry away all the lead they took from the roof. We have no idea yet what the total cost will be.
“Everything is covered by insurance but that’s not much consolation for the loss of the artefacts.”
Anybody with information about the stolen items or the burglary, which happened some time between Wednesday, May 4 and Friday, May 6, should contact South Yorkshire Police on 0114 220 2020 quoting incident number 577 of the May 6. Crimestoppers can also be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111.