An Irish Traveller gang is believed to have master-minded the theft of St Laurence O’Toole’s preserved heart from a Dublin cathedral.

Dublin police now believe that criminals linked to international rhino horn trade were responsible for the theft from Christ Church cathedral.

The gang, members of the travelling community, have been linked to the international trade of rhino horns for the Chinese market according to the Sunday Independent newspaper.

A report states that the gang orchestrated the theft of the 890-year-old relic last month when two men prised open the cage that had protected the relic and had been in place since the Middle Ages.

The Dublin theft was preceded by robberies of a relic, said to be of St Brigid, and of a piece of the ‘true Cross’ from Holycross Abbey in Thurles which was later returned.

The Sunday Independent states that police are investigating possible with a gang ‘suspected’ of involvement in the highly lucrative theft of rhinoceros horn, which is sold in powdered form as a traditional medicine in China.

Officers believe the gang may have discovered a niche market for stolen relics.

Christ Church dean, the Very Rev Dermot Dunne, told the paper: “The theft of the St Laurence relic feels like part of the fabric of the cathedral has gone.

“It has evoked a lot of sympathy among the public who have expressed the hope that it would be returned safely.

“We are mystified as to who might have stolen the relic. I have done some research online and have found there is a market for class one relics, the remains of real saints.”

The report states that the market seems to exist in the Americas and the Far East.

Thieves stole the preserved heart of St Laurence O'Toole, Dublin's patron saint, from Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday morning.