An historic Holy Land church that marks the site of Jesus’s transfiguration has been robbed and desecrated by unknown assailants in an act described by the local Catholic authorities as “heinous.”
Intruders who broke into the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in the Israeli region of Galilee destroyed its tabernacle, desecrated consecrated hosts, vandalized statues and stole chalices together with the contents of the donation box.
A joint statement released by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem together with all the Churches and the Custody of the Holy Land described the crime as “heinous” and “an act that violates the sanctity of the holy sites.”
Church officials believe the motive for Monday’s incident was robbery and not Jewish extremism. Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for the Catholic bishops in the Holy Land, told local media that no graffiti was left in the attack, which is the norm in cases of extremism in the region.
According to The Times of Israel, police officials are investigating the robbery as a criminal matter without religious motivations.
The Church of the Transfiguration is a Franciscan church located on Mount Tabor in Galilee, which according to tradition is the site where Jesus and three of his apostles, Peter, James and John, went up a mountain to pray. The Gospels record how, on the mountain, Jesus shone with bright rays of light and the prophets Moses and Elijah appeared beside him.
According to Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary in Jerusalem, the incident showed a “lack of the sense of the sacred, of the divine” that was normal in the Holy Land among Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.
“The thieves even stole a bronze statue of Our Lady, which was on the tabernacle,” Marcuzzo said in a statement. “But it is too heavy and they left it almost immediately. Some volunteers found it lying in the garden and put it back in its original place.”
According to the bishop, who visited the site soon after the attack, there are also signs of the vandals setting fire to the church.
The total value of the theft was unknown, but there was only “a small amount of money” in the box, Marcuzzo said. Despite the incident taking place at the end of the Sukkot celebrations, the attack wasn’t sectarian in nature, but most likely a case of “petty crime,” he added.
Marcuzzo said a small prayer of reparation has been made, but an official service will be held in the coming weeks, according to Asia News.
“This will confirm our love for the place, our sense of the sacred and devotion to Our Lady,” he said. “All those who have a connection with this place will be invited — of course Muslims too.”
The current church of the Transfiguration is part of a Mount Tabor Franciscan friary complex completed in 1924 by architect Antonio Barluzzi. It was built on the ruins of a sixth-century Byzantine church and a 12th-century church of the Crusader period.