THIEVES have hacked away and stolen two rare 15th-century panels
from an oak rood-screen, and badly damaged a third. The attack on
Holy Trinity, Torbryan, an isolated church near Newton Abbott, in
Devon, was described as "devastating" by the Churches Conservation
Trust, which maintains the building.
The two stolen panels, depicting St Victor of Marseilles and St
Margaret of Antioch, were cut from their surround with a
large-bladed or Stanley-type knife. The thieves are believed to
have abandoned their efforts to steal a third image of a female
saint, but damaged it in the process.
The 15th-century church remains consecrated, but is rarely used
for worship. It has no CCTV or modern security systems, and is
looked after by volunteers. The paintings disappeared between 22
July and 8 August. It is not clear whether the thieves broke in
overnight, or stole them during opening hours.
The paintings were once part ofa rood screen containing 40
panels, and are rare survivals of pre-Reformation figurative
painting. An art historian with the Churches Conservation Trust, Dr
Neil Rushden, said: "This is the best example of this type of
panels in this country. They are as unique and priceless as a
Turner or a Rembrandt. In effect they're unique, and that makes
them priceless pieces of art."