Arkansas monastery altar desecrated with sledgehammer, 1,500-year-old relics stolen

(CNA/InfoCatlica) Last Thursday, a tragic event occurred when the altar of a Benedictine monastery in Arkansas was destroyed and various relics of ancient saints were stolen.

The Abbey of Subiaco, in Subiaco, Arkansas, reported in a news release that on January 5 a man, using a normal hammer and mallet/axe, began to destroy the abbey’s marble altar by breaking it in several places. Founded in 1878, Subiaco is home to a community of 39 Benedictine monks.

The prime suspect, a man named Jerrid Farnam, 31, of Subiaco, Arkansas, was arrested Thursday afternoon in connection with the crimes.

This man left a gaping hole in the top of the altar and broke stones containing relics, the abbey said. According to the Logan County Sheriff’s Office, two reliquaries, small brass boxes containing three relics of saints dating back more than 1,500 years each, were stolen.

Father Elijah Owens, OSB, the abbot of the monastery, told CNA on Friday that the relics contained in one of the reliquaries were those of Saint Boniface, Saint Tiberius and Saint Benedict of Nursia.

The other reliquary contained the relics of Saint Tiberius, Saint Marcellus and Saint Justina, Owens said.

The man approached the tabernacle and removed a cross located on top, as well as the tabernacle veil, before being interrupted, the abbey said. Neither the tabernacle nor the Eucharist suffered damage, according to the abbey.

Visitors to the abbey notified management and the Logan County Sheriff’s Department was called and responded to the scene. Subiaco Academy, the nearby boys’ 7-12 school run by the abbey, was closed while the investigation was carried out, the abbey said.

When the police arrived, the man was gone. Shortly after police investigated and left the scene, the man returned to the church, according to the abbey. He contacted the police again.

A monk was talking to the man and it became clear that he was the author, according to the abbey. The man was later detained and police found one of the reliquaries with three relics inside in the man’s truck, the abbey said.

The reliquary containing the relics of Saint Tiberius, Saint Marcellus and Saint Justina has not yet been found, Owens told CNA.

A hammer and mallet/axe with marble dust on both were also found, the abbey said.

Throughout all of this, our monks continued our regular community prayers. Now that the knight has been captured and justice will proceed, we may as well offer a prayer for him. Due to the desecration of the altar, Abbot Elias and the monastic community will carry out the penitential rite, reparation for the desecration, and offer a reparation mass, the abbey said.

They also reported that the altar has been stripped bare and all the usual signs of joy and rejoicing have been removed.

A portable altar will now be used until repairs are made, the abbey said.

According to police, Farnam also entered an empty house near the abbey. An item from the house was found in Farnam’s truck, police added. His truck was impounded and towed away by the police.

Farnam has not yet been officially charged and his bail has not been set.

At this time, their anticipated charges are theft of property, first degree criminal damage, residential burglary, burglary and public intoxication, the sheriff’s office said. Pending the nature of the destruction and the difficulty in estimating the cost of items destroyed and stolen and that an altar was desecrated.

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