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Nationally important medieval stones stolen from church remains in Darlington

Police are investigating the possible theft of three nationally-important early Medieval sculptured stones from the remains of a church on the outskirts of Darlington.

A missing item: a fragment of Viking runic inscription which translated means “in memory of Mael-Muriel/…raised cross”,

All Saints Church in Sockburn is a rare surviving example of a pre- and post-Norman Conquest church site and graveyard.

Its collection of late 9th and 10th century Viking sculptured stones are unrivalled in the country.

One of the stolen items, a fragment of a Medieval cross slab carved with a small sword, measuring 43cm x 13cm.

Many of these were collected in the 19th century by the landowner Sir Edward Buckley who had part of the ruined church reconstructed and re-roofed specifically “for the reception and preservation of the ancient stones lying among the ruins.”

One of the stolen items: a well-preserved fragment of a carved bear’s head, possibly from a hogback - a Viking grave marker.

The church discovered the loss of the items last week and notified police, but it’s thought they could have gone missing at any point since September 2015.

The three items missing are:

  • a well-preserved fragment of a carved bear’s head, a Viking grave marker, dating to the 9th or 10th centuries which measures 24.5cm at its widest
  • a fragment of Viking runic inscription which translated means “in memory of Mael-Muriel/…raised cross”, also dating to the same period
  • a fragment of a Medieval cross slab carved with a small sword

Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Advisor for Historic England said:

This is not a victimless crime. Church buildings are places of cultural, historic, religious and, to many people, personal importance and the loss of these three nationally-significant stones robs us of our shared history.

The value of England’s heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft on our historic buildings and cultural property has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen."

– Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Advisor for Historic England

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Durham said:

The removal of these important artefacts is of great concern. We would ask anyone who has any information that would lead to their safe return to come forward and contact the police as soon as possible.

Many of our churches both open and closed, as in this case have items of historical importance and making them available to our communities is clearly part of our open door policy. However, that is no excuse for the wanton removal of any items as this is a crime which affects the whole community.”

– A spokesperson for the Diocese of Durham
All Saints Church Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

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