Rural Andean churches plagued by sacred art theft
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - The thieves tunnelled under the thick walls of the colonial-era Roman Catholic church in the tiny southern Bolivian town of San Miguel de Tomave, emerged through the floor and made off with five 18th-century oil paintings of inestimable value.
It was the third time the highlands church had been plundered of sacred art since 2007. Most of the finely-etched silver that once graced its altar was already gone.
"Who would have thought they would take the canvases, too?" the Rev Francisco Dubert, the parish priest, asked of the 2-metre-by-1.75-metre oils depicting the Virgin Mary.
Increasingly bold thefts plague colonial churches in remote Andean towns in Bolivia and Peru, where authorities say cultural treasures are disappearing at an alarming rate. At least 10 churches have been hit so far this year in the two culturally rich but economically poor countries.