A marble statue of the Virgin Mary which had become a pilgrimage point for Catholics in East London has been ripped from its base and stolen. The owner of the seven stone statue called the crime “an offence against Christianity,” but the Metropolitan Police are refusing to treat it as a hate crime.
The white statue was placed on a plinth in Palmerston Road, Walthamstow, by local resident Christopher Theile. Originally intended for his back garden, the statue was much larger than he’d anticipated so he used it to mark the historic site of a church medicine garden, where it attracted regular visitors.
Mr Thiele admitted that he hadn’t expected the statue to attract any interest; instead he soon found himself transporting regular gifts and offerings, including prayers, flowers and even coins, to a local Catholic church. Many have been left distraught by the theft, prompting Mr Thiele to vow to replace the statue, even though he can’t afford to do so.
Speaking to London’s Evening Standard, Mr Theile, 38, said:
“I was sad and angry. I put it there as an act of faith – for relief, forgiveness and grace. I could hardly afford it, but I found her online and instantly ordered her.
“I thought she would go in my back garden, but then the merchant called me and said they only had a taller one. When it arrived it was so huge I asked a construction company if they could put it in front of the house instead.
“I’ve seen so many people kneeling down in front of the statue. There was an elderly Romanian woman who came regularly for prayers and she asked me where the statue was. When I explained it had been stolen she started to cry.
“We will replace her – I ordered a new one even though I couldn’t afford it.”
The £750 statue has not yet turned up on eBay, although a similar one is being offered for £2,000. Mr Thiele said he believes the crime was motivated by religious hate rather than greed, adding that people often use the local churchyard as a urinal and schoolchildren would spit at the statue.
“At least two people must have done this,” he said, “and they must have been strong. The base was secured with industrial glue and screwed into the wall, so they must have used force. It wasn’t like taking away a McDonald’s.”
“It’s an offence against Christianity.”
A Scotland Yard officer has confirmed that the Metropolitan Police are not treating the offence as a hate crime. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “We received a report of the theft of a statue of the Virgin Mary from Palmerston Road, Walthamstow. The theft took place between Friday, August 7 and Saturday, August 8.
“Anyone who has information concerning the theft is asked to call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”