Saturday, February 04, 2006

Swedish church treasures went to Tenerife

Swedish rural churches are uncommonly rich in Medieval wooden sculpture. This has to do with relative poverty in the past, where decorations would not be updated very often, with a climate hostile to vermin, and with a comparatively mild Reformation, with little in the way of iconoclastic vandalism. Very often, the Popish idols wouldn't be burnt in the village green in the 16th century, but instead hoisted up to the church attic and forgotten. The Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm has a huge collection of such sculpture.

For years, there has been a string of thefts in churches in northern Sweden. Artworks and handicraft from the Middle Ages onward have been stolen, everything from liturgic silverware to wooden effigies of saints. The theif/thieves could do this quite easily as the area is thinly populated and the churches haven't been locked in the daytime. The problem took such proportions that the county museum in Härnösand mounted a photographic exhibition named "Wanted -- church thefts in Western Norrland".

Today's papers report that the Swedish police have now found more than a hundred of the stolen objects in the home of a Spanish citizen on Tenerife. The 53-year-old man was expelled for life from Sweden for thefts in the 1970s, but he has nevertheless returned regularly. The police became interested in him last summer after he'd sold a stolen object on the net. They arrested him in September in Hudiksvall, a town in the very area where the thefts have taken place.

Let's hope there's documentation enough to show which piece goes back to what church.

Tegnér, G. 2002. Efterlyst -- en utställning om kyrkostölder i Västernorrland. Fornvännen 2002:3. KVHAA. Stockholm.

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