A thief in Italy posed as a pilgrim and stole part of the brain of St John Bosco, one of the country’s most popular saints.
The crime has caused a storm in the Catholic country, with police setting up roadblocks over the weekend as they stepped up their attempt to apprehend the criminal.
He walked into a church at Castelnuovo, near Turin, which honors the 19th-century saint, and left with a glass case containing the relic. Devotees often visit the church to pray to it.
John Bosco, also known as Don Bosco, was a priest who dedicated his life to helping deprived children. He founded the Salesian religious order and died in 1888. He was canonised in 1934.
Cesare Nosiglia, the archbishop of Turin, said the “profound moral misery of whoever takes such a symbol, which is to be worshipped by all” was lamentable.
Police believe the thief intends to demand a ransom for the brain. Darker theories circulating suggest it may be used in satanic rites, during which Christian symbols are defiled.
Body parts said to belong to saints are highly prized in Catholic churches in Europe and have been targeted by thieves before. In 2014, a phial of blood from Pope John Paul II was stolen.