Church tries to win return of stolen treasure from Spain

The Church of Sweden is going on the offensive to try to get objects stolen from churches in northern Sweden returned from Spain.

Around one hundred objects were stolen over a period of twenty years from churches in Norrland. A Spanish man was jailed for four years for the thefts by a court in Sundsvall in July.

One of the most valuable pieces to turn up in Spain was a 13th century reliquary stolen from Ullånger Church in 1999. It is now in the Museo de las Artes Decoratives in Madrid, having been bought at auction by the Spanish Ministry of Culture for a reported €60,000. Reliquaries were caskets used to house the purported remains of saints or other holy figures.

Rickard Isaksson, a curator for the Diocese of Härnosand, now says that the church is willing to pay for the objects to be returned.

“It feels a bit bitter to have to pay for it, but it seems that Spanish law says that if someone has paid for an object in good faith, then one has to pay to get it back.”

But, he added, the church hoped to get help to fund the purchase.

“This reliquary is of national importance, and the parish itself does not have the money.”

So far, however, attempts to get the reliquary returned have moved slowly. Isaksson says that the Swedish National Heritage Board has written four times to the Ministry of Culture in Madrid.

The Local spoke to a senior official at the Madrid museum, who said she had only heard that the museum was housing the stolen reliquary when contacted by a Swedish journalist last week.

“We have not heard anything official from the Ministry of Culture,” she said. “We’re not even completely sure which piece is being referred to, although we have an idea.”

The Local has contacted the Spanish Ministry of Culture, but the person responsible for the question of the reliquary was away. Attempts to contact the relevant person at the Swedish National Heritage Board were also fruitless.