Police and church leaders now believe a religious fanatic stole the preserved heart of Dublin’s patron saint Laurence O’Toole from the City’s Christchurch Cathedral.

The Protestant cleric in charge of the Cathedral has also issued a desperate please for the return of the heart.

“I am appealing to whoever did this to hand it back; it’s a desecration of a holy place. I’ll take it back without any questions asked, we just want it back,” said devastated cathedral Dean, the Reverend Dermot Dunne.

Reverend Dunne also said that police suspect the thief hid overnight before stealing the 800-year-old preserved heart from a small heart-shaped wooden box which was sealed in an iron-barred case.

“The vergers realised it was gone when they opened the cathedral at 9.30am on Saturday morning,” Reverend Dunne told the Irish Independent.

“It was definitely there the evening before. They also noticed that there were two peace candles lit on the Trinity Altar. It’s all very strange.

“Somebody must have hid in the cathedral overnight on Friday and slipped out first thing on Saturday morning. There was no sign of forced entry and all our doors are alarmed.”

Police also believe the theft was well planned.

Reverend Dunne added: “It looks like somebody used strong shears to cut into the cage. The cage is pretty robust; it would take a lot to cut the metal but somehow they managed to do it. It has no monetary value but there are various speculations as to a motive.

“One theory is that they are being stolen to order. Perhaps a religious fanatic wants the relic and paid somebody to steal it.

“Nobody has ever attempted to steal the heart in the past; it was just there and it never crossed my mind that it might be stolen. It has no monetary value but we have loads of silver. It’s the last thing we thought would be stolen.

“St Laurence O’Toole is the patron saint of the capital. His heart was our link with the past. It’s an artefact, a relic and has particular meaning to Christ Church.”

Christchurch Cathedral’s security systems will be reviewed in the wake of the theft.

“The loss is akin to a piece of your family history being taken away, a part of the fabric of the cathedral has now been lost,” added Reverend Dunne.

“It’s a pity but after what’s happened we’re going to step up security. We will install more CCTV and we’ll do it in a very tasteful way but there’s no doubt we need to do it.

“We already have security on the outer doors and for our treasury we have super security, it’s almost impossible to break into it.”

St. Laurence O'Toole's Heart - stolen from Christ Church CathedralGoogle Images