Unidentified thieves broke into the northern French church of Saint-Léonard last week and stole the relics of the 8th-century Saint Boniface, French media report.
Father Pascal Marie, the pastor of the nearby parish of Notre-Dame de l’Estuaire, located in the seaside town of Honfleur (Normandy), noted last Wednesday evening as he went to lock up the church that the reliquaries beneath the altar to the Virgin Mary had been torn off along with the relics contained in them.
Among the relics were pieces of the bones of Saint Boniface, an English monk considered by Catholics the “apostle to the Germans.” The theft is believed to have occurred sometime Wednesday afternoon.
“I am dismayed and very sad,” the priest said. “We have been making great efforts to restore radiance to this church, which receives more and more visitors. I had the statue of Saint Joseph installed as well as candlesticks and this is what happens. It’s a real lack of respect.”
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI spoke approvingly of Saint Boniface, noting that he had received from Pope Gregory II the mission of “preaching the Gospel among the German peoples,” which he undertook, “fighting against pagan worship and reinforcing the foundations of human and Christian morality.”
In one of his letters, Boniface wrote, “We are not mute dogs or taciturn observers or mercenaries fleeing from wolves! On the contrary, we are diligent Pastors who watch over Christ’s flock, who proclaim God’s will to the leaders and ordinary folk, to the rich and the poor… in season and out of season…”
Boniface died as a martyr in what is today northern Holland, set upon by a band of pagans. By then a bishop, Boniface forbade his followers from fighting to protect him, and died in the attack at the age of 80.
“By comparing his ardent faith, this zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time,” Pope Benedict said of him.
The monetary value of the stolen relics is difficult to determine, since Catholics are prohibited from buying or selling spiritual things or holy objects such as relics, which would be considered the sin of simony.
Local police have launched an investigation into the theft but so far have recovered nothing and have announced no suspects for the robbery.