A church preserved on what is considered to be Christian holy ground in Israel was robbed sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning, according to reports. Thieves ransacked the Basilica of the Transfiguration, taking chalices, damaging icon and ornaments. They also took a donation box, church officials said Tuesday.
Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for bishops in the Holy Land, said in a statement the robbery was not religiously motivated. There were no offensive markings or graffiti painted on the church, which Abunassar said was a usual indication of recent religiously charged vandalism at other holy buildings targeted by Jewish extremists. Local police said the robbery “appeared to be a criminal matter.”
It is unclear how many chalices and relics were stolen from the church. Authorities were also unable to determine how much money was in the temple’s donation box, but officials believe it contained no less than $100. Eucharist wafers, which are used during communion to represent the sacrament of Christ’s death, were found scattered on the church floor, and police discovered a statue tossed outside of the church.
The Basilica of the Transfiguration sits on the sacred Mount Tabor located in the Galilee region of northern Israel and is believed to be the site where Jesus and his disciples Peter, John and James prayed together. Christians believe while praying on the mountain – which took six days to climb – Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, leading to his transfiguration into holiness.
It is unknown when the church was first built. The earliest sighting was recorded in 570 by the Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, who reportedly saw three basilicas on the mountain. However, in 723, Willibaldus wrote about discovering one church dedicated to Jesus, Elijah and Moses. The building, which is part of a Franciscan monastery complex, wasn’t completed until 1925 by architect Antonio Barluzzi. The Basilica of the Transfiguration is a popular tourist attraction in Galilee.