Arkansas man arrested in theft of 1,500-year-old church relics

A man is accused of entering an Arkansas church, smashing a hammer through the center of its altar and stealing two boxes containing 1,500-year-old relics.

Jerrid Farnam, 31, was arrested Thursday and faced likely charges of property theft, criminal mischief in the first degree, residential burglary, breaking or entering and public intoxication, the Logan County Sheriff's Office said. The altar at Subiaco Abbey in Logan County, in northwestern Arkansas, was made of marble imported from Italy, officials said. Two brass-colored boxes inside it contained relics from saints "from over 1,500 years ago."

On Thursday afternoon, guests of the church alerted officials that there was an apparently intoxicated man damaging artifacts. The abbey called the police, and a college-preparatory school connected to the church went into lockdown as officials investigated. Then, the abbey said, the man came back right after the police left. The police were called again, quickly returned and arrested him.

Farnam's vehicle was found by the scene, with tools that had marble dust. One of the missing relic boxes was found in his truck and returned to the abbey.

The second box was found later and returned to the church, the sheriff's office said in a statement posted to Facebook Friday.

"The altar itself had a very large hole in the middle of the slab that went all of the way through the altar, and the altar had large cracks and chips," the sheriff's office said. "This is an act of desecration to the altar." The abbey said the altar had been damaged with both a hammer and a "sledgehammer/axe."

Farnam began to remove the cross from the top of the tabernacle after stealing the relic boxes, but the school said he was "interrupted" before damaging it.

Because of the "difficulty in estimating the cost of the items" and determining the appropriate penalty for desecrating an altar, the sheriff's office said,

Farnam's charges could change. Farnam was being held at Logan County Detention Center, and his bond had not been set. It was unclear whether he had a lawyer.

Subiaco Abbey is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery founded in 1878, and its origins trace back to Saint Benedict of Norcia, according to its website.

"Throughout this, our monks continued with our regularly communal prayers," the abbey said. "Now that the gentleman has been caught and justice will proceed, may we also offer a prayer for him."

The monks will use a portable altar until repairs are made, the abbey said. They will also undertake a prayer intended after desecration of a church.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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