A relic containing drops of late Pope John Paul II's blood has been stolen, and Italian police speculate the thieves may want it for satanic rites.
The vial was stolen from the Church of San Pietro della Ienca in the mountainous Abruzzo region in central Italy on Saturday. Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, loved to go on skiing holidays in the area.
A relic with a vial containing the late Pope John Paul II's blood is seen in 2012.
The theft sparked a major search operation involving sniffer dogs and dozens of police officers.
Italian authorities said they believe the theft was commissioned, as thieves stole only the relic and left many other valuables behind at the church.
Only three of John Paul II's relics contain his blood and they are all considered of great religious value.
As the late pontiff's blood would be difficult to sell, Italian police said it is possible the thieves may plan to use it for satanic rites.
Arguably one of the most popular popes in modern history, John Paul II is due to become a saint in April. - NBCNews
Theft of Pope John Paul's blood from church like "kidnap"
Thieves broke into a small church in the mountains east of Rome over the weekend and stole a reliquary with the blood of the late Pope John Paul II, a custodian said today.
Franca Corrieri said she had discovered a broken window early on Sunday morning and had called the police. When they entered the small stone church they found the gold reliquary and a crucifix missing.
John Paul, who died in 2005, loved the mountains in the Abruzzo region east of Rome. He would sometimes slip away from the Vatican secretly to hike or ski there and pray in the church.
Polish-born John Paul, who reigned for 27 years, is due to be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in May, meaning the relic will become more noteworthy and valuable.
In 2011, John Paul's former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, gave the local Abruzzo community some of the late pontiff's blood as a token of the love he had felt for the mountainous area.
It was put in a gold and glass circular case and kept in a niche of the small mountain church of San Pietro della Ienca, near the city of L'Aquila.
Corrieri told Reuters the incident felt more like a "kidnapping" than a theft. "In a sense, a person has been stolen," she said by telephone.
She said she could not say if the intention of the thieves may have been to seek a ransom for the blood.
Apart from the reliquary and a crucifix, nothing else was stolen from the isolated church, even though Corrieri said the thieves would probably have had time to take other objects during the night-time theft.
Some of John Paul's blood was saved after an assassination attempt that nearly killed him in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 - Independent
A Brief History of Stolen Catholic Relics
In March 2012, a 900-year-old heart that allegedly belonged to St. Laurence O'Toole was stolen from a cathedral in Dublin. Although Rev. Dermot Dunne pointed out that the heart is “valueless” to others, the thief seems to have targeted the relic specifically, prying open the iron cage that held it while leaving more expensive items untouched.
While this might seem odd, the pilfering of Catholic relics has been going on for centuries.
The possession of a relic was a much bigger deal for a church in the Middle Ages than it is now for one big reason: money. Having a Vatican-sanctioned relic, be it the bones of a saint or a piece of the True Cross, meant that people were more likely to make pilgrimages to your church or monastery. Once at their destination, these traveling faithful would not only make large donations at the relic’s shrine, but contribute to the local economy as well.
So what did you do if you wanted to get a piece of the pilgrimage action but did not have access to a relic? Steal one.
In 866, the abbey of Conques was located along a popular pilgrim route, but it was of little interest to travelers since it housed no relics itself. Realizing they were missing out on a goldmine, the monks dispatched one of their own to the monastery at Agen, then home to the relics of St. Foy. The monk joined the monastery and spent the next ten years working his way up the ranks, until finally he was put in charge of the relics. He promptly ran off with them, making his decade-long undercover operation a complete success. With its ill-gotten relics, Conques became such a popular pilgrimage place that it became necessary to build a much larger church, a task that was easily paid for from the offerings of the faithful. Read more at MentalFloss
Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics
Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe
St. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found . . . and Then Lost and Found Again
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