COPACABANA, Bolivia (AFP) - The Virgin of our Lady of Copacabana, known as the mother of the nation in Bolivia, has lost her golden crown - the latest religious icon to be stripped by thieves.
In addition to the crown, criminals recently entered the imposing Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana, in a small town on Lake Titicaca, and stole other gold ornaments, which experts value at around US$300,000 (S$372,000).
The gold thefts come on the back of 17th and 18th century paintings being stolen from colonial churches in the country's south.
In the cold streets of Copacabana, a town of 15,000 people located on a small peninsula on Lake Titicaca at 3,800m in altitude, people are sad and shocked by the plundering of the sacred site.
"We are having a very difficult time," Mr Eduardo Catata, a devoted follower of the Virgin in Copacabana, told Agene France-Presse. "These people must be atheists, because they have no fear of punishment from God and the Virgin."
Copacabana relies heavily on tourism associated with the shrine, and they say industry has suffered since the spate of thefts.
"We are concerned with all that has happened," said a crying Ms Rosmery Condori, who for two decades has sold mementos outside the Basilica, which was erected in 1550.
"They have to recover the jewels and find the thieves," she said.
The Episcopal Conference of Bolivia, the country's highest Catholic authority, has expressed alarm at the thefts.