The pretty church in the small village of Montegiordano in Calabria, built at the end of the 19th century and later desecrated, has been carefully taken apart and wrapped up stone by stone on the orders of Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli.
It now has to be shipped to the United States where it is expected to figure in the heart of one of the world's top contemporary art museums, the MoMA PS1 in the Long Island City neighbourhood of New York.
But locals in the village of 2,000 inhabitants are put out over losing their church and have reportedly filed a complaint alleging the property is national heritage.
Vezzoli, 42, a popular and controversial artist and filmmaker from northern Italy, aims to rebuild the church as part of his "Trinity" project on art, religion and glamour – a series of exhibitions being shown at the MOMA, the MOCA in Los Angeles and the MAXXI in Rome.
In Rome, he has created a gallery mixing the classical and contemporary, where faux Roman and Greek statues hold aloft examples of his work, while the Los Angeles exhibition plays on Vezzoli's use of the cinema world to mark the modern obsession with celebrity status.
Vezzoli, best known for his works featuring celebrities such as Courtney Love, Sharon Stone and Lady Gaga, aims to use the shows in the three cities to explore links between art, religion, sex and divas.
He bought the Montegiordano church on the Internet and plans to project his video works onto its rough stone shell.
But the locals' complaints have thrown a spanner in the works: while most of the dismantled church lies in a hangar in the local port of Gioia Tauro, the project has been blocked by the local cultural superintendent in Cosenza, according to the Corriere della Sera daily.
The artist, who insists he has all the correct paperwork and permits to proceed, told the daily that "the church was lost in scrub land and I'm taking it to the MoMA PS1, isn't it better there?"
"Taking it to MoMA PS1 had a symbolic importance for me, which perhaps isn't shared by whoever has blocked the project," he said.
"I am ready to send it back again afterwards and rebuild it as it was, or even restore it," he added.
Neither the cultural authorities nor the police were available for comment, but a source close to the artist said the situation "is being resolved".