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.
All Saints Church in Sockburn, which is to the south of Neasham and near the border with North Yorkshire is a national monument and a rare surviving example of a pre- and post-Norman Conquest church site and graveyard.
It contains a rare collection of late 9th and 10th century Viking sculptured stone, unrivalled in the country.
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.”
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;
- ‘Sockburn 38’ on attached images; a well-preserved fragment of a carved bear’s head, possibly from a hogback – a Viking grave marker – dating to the 9th or 10th centuries which measures 24.5cm at its widest;
- ‘Sockburn 67’; a fragment of Viking runic inscription which translated means “in memory of Mael-Muriel/…raised cross”, also dating to the same period, 21cm x 18cm x 9.5cm
- and ‘Sockburn 12’, a fragment of a Medieval cross slab carved with a small sword, measuring 43cm x 13cm.
The officer in the case, PC Simon Hopper said; “These items have significant historical value and might have been taken by someone with a genuine passion in this field who thought they could be better preserved elsewhere.
“It could also be the case they have been removed by someone who thought they would look nice in their garden and did not realise their value. But of course there is also the obvious possibility they have been stolen for potential monetary gain.”
Carol Pyrah, Planning Director for Historic England in the North East said: “We are extremely concerned about the loss of these early Medieval stones not only because they are works of art in their own right but also because of their contribution to the significance of this nationally-important archaeological site. We will continue to work with the owner and the police to raise awareness of their loss and hopefully to expedite their recovery.”
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.”
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.”
The collection of stones was catalogued in 1905 and then again in 1984 when they were added to the Corpus of Anglo Saxon Sculpture.
Anyone with information on the missing artefacts is urged to call police on 101 or to contact the independent charity, Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.