STOCKHOLM – Thieves stole priceless royal artifacts in a daring raid on a Swedish cathedral before escaping by speedboat, police said.
The thieves made off with jewels belonging to former Swedish monarchs Karl IX and Kristina from the Strängnäs Cathedral to the west of the capital, Stockholm, on Tuesday.
Two crowns and a golden orb adorned with a crucifix were taken from the cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, according to a police report. The items date from the early 17th century.
A witness told Swedish media that he was eating lunch when he saw two people running toward a boat, which they sped away in.
Police said several thieves were involved in the heist. They fled in an open-topped motorboat across the sea from the base of the church. Several police patrol boats as well as police helicopters joined a hunt for the perpetrators.
The cathedral was placed on lockdown, CNN affiliate Expressen reported, and the search for the thieves continued on Wednesday.
“To a limited extent we are still looking for (them) both on the ground and at sea. We have no new findings so far,” said Tor Sevelius, commanding officer at the police’s management center.
Police are investigating “any boat that may seem interesting,” as the thieves may have switched to another craft, police spokesman Thomas Agnevik told Expressen.
The three items stolen were part of the funeral regalia of the king and queen, and would have been buried with the monarchs, Christofer Lundgren, dean of the Strängnäs parish, told Expressen. They were later taken from the burial site and displayed to the public, he added.
He said that while the items have monetary value, it pales in comparison to their significance to Sweden’s cultural history.
“From our point of view, the material value is less important than the cultural history of these items. I do not see this as a theft from Strängnäs cathedral assembly. This is part of the national cultural heritage, this is a theft of Swedish society,” Lundgren said.
Police said they could not comment on the value of the items stolen.
The cathedral was open to the public from 10 a.m., and the theft took place just before lunchtime. No one was injured or threatened during the robbery, Lundgren said.
The heist has echoes of a daring robbery in Venice in January, when thieves mingled with other visitors to an exhibition before brazenly making off with gems from the Qatari royal collection.
In that robbery, at least two people entered the Doge’s Palace – a popular tourist spot in Venice where a selection of Indian jewelry from the Qatari collection was on display to the public. One suspect acted as lookout while the other grabbed the jewels from a display case.