Shrine of St. Manchan relic recovered after being stolen on Friday in Offaly

St Manchan relic, Offaly

The famed Shrine of St. Manchan was located via an “intelligence-led search” after being stolen on Friday from St Manchan's Church near Lemanaghan in Co Offaly. Two men were arrested in connection with the crime but have since been released from gardai custody after the 6th century relic was located.

The Irish Independent reports on the speedy theft and recovery of what is considered to be one of Ireland's most important and precious works of medieval art. The Shrine of St. Manchan, which houses the bones of the saint, was stolen from its Offaly church around lunchtime on Friday.

Two men, both in their 30s and part of the Travelling community, were arrested shortly after the disappearance of the Shrine on Friday. Despite not being found to have the artifact in their possession, they were taken into custody for questioning.

Gardai were later led to the relic which was in a remote area in Doon, Co Offaly.

A CCTV recording helped bring the suspects into custody and to prove that the robbery  was predetermined. The entire theft took only 65 seconds, and showed a man wearing a hood and gloves stealing the artifact. The thief broke the 66 pound shrine from its hinges - which triggered an alarm - before bringing out to the getaway car who was being driven by his accomplice.

Gardai were alerted and later stopped the car on the N5.

St Manchan's parish priest Fr James MacKiernan shared his delight with the Sunday Independent about the speedy return of the prized relic."We're absolutely ecstatic. We believed we would get it back at some stage and thanks to the very hard work of the gardai and the local people we will have back here very soon. It's still in the custody of the gardai but we believe that it's intact.”

"We're just thrilled to be getting it back. I've already had a number of calls from parishioners and they're delighted," he said.

The Shrine of St. Manchan is still in gardai custody for forensic testing.

The two men who were taken into custody were also questioned about a separate incident involving a church burglary that shared similarities with the St. Manchan’s theft. In March, the preserved heart of St. Laurence O'Toole was stolen from Christchurch in Dublin on March 4th, attracting international attention. The relic was also nabbed around lunchtime by two men, but has yet to be recovered.

There is no readily known underground market for such relics, but gardai believe the artifacts were stolen in order to be used as a bartering tool or ransoms.