Thieves steal 'priceless' medieval wooden panels from Devon church

The ornate 15th century artifacts vividly depicted saints in "the best preserved medieval rood screen in the country"

A pair of “priceless” mid-15th century medieval panels have been stolen from a church in Devon, police said.

The “fantastic examples of craftsmanship” are believed to have been hacked out of a section of The Holy Trinity Church in Torbryan, Newton Abbot at some point between 2 and 9 August.

Thieves hacked the two panels, depicting St Victor of Marseilles and St Margaret, from their casings, as well as smashing a gaping hole in a third.

Police described the artistry as being of a very high standard, and the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) said the damaged woodwork had been “the best preserved medieval rood screen in the country”.

Officers launched a national appeal for information, believing that by this point the panels could be somewhere else in the country.

The Torbryan screen was described as being of “national interest”, as one of the only examples to have survived the “worst excesses of the iconoclasts” in the late medieval period.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of the CCT, said: “I was shocked to learn of the theft of these panels and the damage done to this significant art work. Holy Trinity is a beautiful building much admired around the country and beyond.

“This crime will deprive all visitors and researchers of an important part of Devon heritage and is essentially a theft of public property. We hope that by publicising the loss we might recover the panels and ask anyone who might have information to contact us.”

Mr Truman told the BBC that the trust was aware of the importance of the panels that were “viciously hacked out”, but said he believed there was little that could have been done to protect them.

He added: “The value of these panels is in the building, they belong there. They are essentially priceless.”

PC Gareth Beynon, from the Newton Abbot investigation team, said: “We are keen to find out what has happened to these ancient panels. They are very distinctive and may be somewhere else in the country.

“We are appealing for anyone who knows where they are or who may be responsible to get it touch.”

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of the two missing panels is asked to call police on 101, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Holy Trinity Church was nominated last month by round-the-world sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston as one of the UK’s favourite churches.

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