A HOLY shrine that normally contains a relic of St Brigid has been stolen from a church as worshippers prepare for the patron saint's feast day.
Thieves made off with the rare Celtic-designed reliquary - an ornate container for relics - which was screwed into the altar at St Brigid's Church in Killester, north Dublin, yesterday.
Believed to be worth 10,000 euro, the distinctive press, fashioned in the style of St Patrick's Bell, housed a small piece of St Brigid's skull brought back to Ireland from Portugal in 1929.
But parish officials had only removed the relic, which is fixed to a cruciform, in recent weeks as the double-door reliquary underwent renovations as part of general maintenance at the church on Howth Road.
The theft is thought to have occurred some time between noon and 3pm yesterday - two days before St Brigid's Day.
It follows the robbery in Co Tipperary last October of another ancient relic, believed to be from the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
That priceless artefact was returned to Holycross Abbey, near Thurles, earlier this month after gardai carried out a search in the midlands.
Killester parish priest Monsignor Alex Stenson said it was unclear if the latest theft was targeting the relics of St Brigid, one of Ireland's three patron saints.
"We could speculate until the cows come home but I really do not know," he said.
Fr Stenson said parish officials decided not to put the relic back into the container but instead kept it in a safe as it was needed for the annual St Brigid celebrations.
The cleric said there would be no special prayers for the return of the reliquary but he hoped it would turn up.
"We'll be happy enough with celebrating the feast of St Brigid and blessing people who wish to be with the relic," he said.
Fr Stenson added that they would be reviewing security measures in the parish.
The reliquary, which had been in the church for more than 50 years, is believed to have been stolen while the building was open to the public.
The relic of St Brigid was gifted to Killester more than 80 years ago.
Three Irish knights brought the saint's carefully preserved skull to Portugal, during the Crusades in the 1200s, where it was placed in a church at Lumiar, outside Lisbon, and where it remains.
The Cardinal of Lisbon gave a small portion of the relic to Killester in 1928 when it was decided to dedicate the local church to the saint. At the time it was a great surprise to many Irish people that this relic existed.
The late Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, who had a devotion to St Brigid, often travelled to Killester to pray in the presence of the relic.