PRICELESS artefacts which were stolen last year have been recovered.
The relics are said to be part of the crucifix on which Jesus died and have been the subject of devotion and pilgrimage for the past 900 years.
They were taken from the Holycross Abbey in Thurles, Co Tipperary, last October, by two masked men, who used an angle grinder to remove them.
But following a search operation in the midlands this week, gardai recovered the relics.
Last night, officers were reluctant to confirm the location of the find for operational reasons but did say they had been recovered in a field in a rural area.
The undamaged relics were positively identified by the Holycross parish priest Father Tom Breen, who said last night: "The people and the clergy of Holy Cross and the thousands of pilgrims who come to pray at the abbey will be overjoyed at the news that the precious relics of the cross have been found."
Paying tribute to the work of the gardai in recovering the relics, Fr Breen said they would be put back on display but security would be tightened up at the abbey.
"Even though they have no monetary value, they are of enormous devotional importance and must be protected," he added.
The Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Most Rev Dermot Clifford also thanked the gardai and said it was a joyous day for which thousands had been praying since the relics had been stolen.
He said it was still a mystery as to why they were taken as they were of little monetary value.
One of the relics was contained in a 12-inch high gold- and-bronze cross with a glass centrepiece, presented to the abbey by the Vatican in 1977.
The raiders also took a 12-inch high silver cross, which hung from a chain and contained two other crosses and two dark stones. It had been in Holy Cross since 1180.
Gardai are investigating whether the robbery was linked to the theft of three sets of keys from the sacristy while Fr Breen was celebrating a wedding in the previous months.
The abbey was unlocked when the raiders struck and they used the angle grinder to open a steel display frame.
Visitors spotted the gang leaving the church ground and getting into a red Volkswagen Touareg.