Cathedral chaplain Johan Sköld was “upset and shocked” after learning of the burglary, which was discovered by a member of staff who opened the cathedral on Friday morning.
The thieves entered the cathedral by breaking a window.
“It is a great loss and not only for this church since it concerns a Swedish king. What happened is terribly sad,” Sköld told local newspaper Vestmanlands Läns Tidning (VLT).
Johan III, the son of King Gustav Vasa, died in 1592. The stolen items – a bronze crown and sceptre and a gilded wooden apple – were kept by the grave of Erik XIV, the half-brother of King Johan III who was buried without regalia in Västerås in 1577. King Gustav III arranged for the sceptre and crown, which had been used in King Johan III’s funeral procession, to be moved to Västerås in 1800 and placed by the grave of Erik XIV.
“It is impossible to sell these things,” said Kenneth Mandergrehn of Sweden’ National Bureau of Investigation (Rikskriminalpolisen).
“Anyone in the business who is offered to buy the items will react immediately,” said Mandergrehn, who specializes in crimes against cultural heritage. He explained that funeral regalia, which are copies of national regalia, are probably not of interest to collectors.
“Church thefts usually involve Catholic items that are stolen and sold abroad. These items do not fall within that category,” said Mandergrehn.
“They are invaluable as symbols of a previous Swedish monarch. Their sentimental value cannot be measured,” said Sköld.
“It is a great loss to us all. This is part of our cultural heritage. We are working intensely with improving security but at the same time these items should be accessible to everyone. It is a tough balancing act,” said John Rothlind, chief conservationist at the Swedish Church in Västerås.
Thomas Gustafsson of the regional Västmanland police force said a nationwide alert had been issued. “These things are so special that most people should react if they surface. We have notified all police stations in Sweden,” said Gustafsson.
Local police said they would also investigate whether the burglars were caught on surveillance cameras.
Funeral regalia were traditionally used in royal burials in Sweden to symbolize the deceased royal’s identity and social stature. They were placed inside or on top of the coffin. A second set of golden regalia used in Johan III’s funeral is still kept in Uppsala.
The stolen sceptre and crown, which are made of bronze and have silver details, were produced in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The gilded wooden apple was made in the nineteenth century. All three items lay on a wooden pillow, which was also stolen on Thursday night.
Other sets of royal funeral regalia are kept in the Strängnäs, Uppsala and Stockholm.