An art thief has broken into a church and stolen a precious 450-year-old painting called "Let the little children come to me" by the 16th century German artist Lucas Cranach (1472-1533) - writes Oivind Ostang.
Police superintendent Kenneth Didriksen of the Norwegian economic crime police told the daily Norwegian Aftenposten newspaper on 9 March 2009 that the theft of the Renaissance painting in the (Lutheran) Church of Norway Diocese of Tunsberg showed that a trend seen recently in other parts of Europe had now reached Norway.
"The theft of religious art is growing as the market's interest in this is on the increase," said Didriksen. He noted that Norwegian churches did not have sufficient security to prevent such thefts.
The police said the painting was stolen at about 1.30 a.m. on 8 March from a church in the southern Norway town of Larvik hours before Sunday services. The church had housed the painting since shortly after Danish-Norwegian Count Ulrik Frederik Gyldenloeve erected the building in 1677.
The work of art, whose title echoes words spoken by Jesus, is estimated to be worth around 20 million Norwegian krone (US$2.8 million). A forced entry into the church triggered an alarm but the painting had not been additionally secured in its place on the wall behind the pulpit.
Art and other precious articles in Church of Norway churches were last year estimated to be worth around 9 billion krone (US$1.3 billion).
Oeystein Dahle of the Church of Norway Employers' and Interest Organization (KA) confirmed with Aftenposten that Norwegian churches were lagging behind in guarding their valuable possessions. Dahle said that, spurred on by the latest incident, a plan to prevent further thefts would be implemented by the KA, the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage, and the police.
Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, head of the Church of Norway Joint Parish Council Administration of Oslo, told Aftenposten it was a major dilemma for the national church to secure its valuables while at the same time keeping local churches open.
Lucas Cranach was a friend of German Protestant reformer Martin Luther, and painted a portrait of him as well as other members of his family.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]