STONE carvings dating back to the ninth century have been stolen from a collection housed in a semi-ruined church.
They include a fragment of a bear’s head (image 2 in slideshow), possibly from a hogback (a Viking grave-marker); part of a medieval cross carved with a small sword (above); and a Viking runic inscription that reads “In memory of Mael-Muriel” (image 3 in slideshow).
They had originally been collected by Sir Edward Buckley, a landowner who restored and reroofed part of a ruined Norman church, All Saints’, Sockburn, near Darlington, in 1905, specifically to house them. The pieces are all listed in a national catalogue of significant relics, The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture, held by Durham University.
The theft was reported two weeks ago, but, because of the church’s isolated location, it could have occurred at any time since September 2015.
PC Simon Hopper of Durham Constabulary said: “These items have significant historical value, and might have been taken by someone with a genuine passion in this field who thought they could be better preserved elsewhere.
“It could also be the case [that] they have been removed by someone who thought they would look nice in their garden, and did not realise their value; and there is also the obvious possibility they have been stolen for potential monetary gain.”
The national policing and crime adviser for Historic England, Mark Harrison, said: “This is not a victimless crime. Church buildings are places of cultural, historic, religious, and, to many people, personal importance, and the loss of these three nationally significant stones robs us of our shared history.”
A spokesperson for the diocese of Durham said: “Many of our churches have items of historical importance, and making them available to our communities is clearly part of our open-door policy. However, that is no excuse for the wanton removal of any items, as this is a crime which affects the whole community.”