Police in Italy fight back against theft of art from churches

Most of the works of art were stolen from churches in southern Italy and some are nearly 500 years old.

Police in Italy fight back against theft of art from churches
A bronze statue of Zeus recovered by Italy's cultural heritage squad in 2010. Photo (not related to story): Tiziana Fabi/AFP.

Italian police have recovered more than 100 works of religious art following investigations into 24 specific cases of theft from churches and religious institutions in central and southern Italy. The artwork retrieved has an estimated value of more than €7 million. 

The recovered items follow a joint investigation by police forces in Isernia, in the southern Italian province Molise, and Velletri, a municipality in the neighbouring province of Lazio, near Rome, together with Italy's protection of cultural heritage squad. 

Among the pieces of art recovered as part of Operation Start Up is Station XII of Via Crucis: Jesus dies on the cross, dated 1520 and removed on July 2, 1980, from the Sainte Waudru religious institute in Mons (Belgium), according to branch of the Italian police that investigates crimes related to cultural heritage

At least 20 suspects in the cases have been charged with aggravated theft. 

“The investigation was born following careful analysis of the thefts of ecclesiastical cultural assets which were located near Caserta, but also in the province of Isernia, committed in places of worship and religious institutes,” says the statement.

Last year a statue of the Archangel Michael dating to 1330 was stolen from The Church of San Michele in Molise, reports Il Quotidiano Molise, a local newspaper

A statue was stolen two days ago from a church in Acerno, a town approximately 100 kilometres south of Naples, according to Il Mattino. 

In 2015 alone, Italian police registered 474 of thefts of “art and architectural material,” according to data from Italy's national statistics agency ISTAT. 

Vincent Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and The Beach At Scheveningen During A Storm were recovered at the home of a drug baron in Naples in September 2016. The paintings were stolen in 2002. 

READ MORE: IN PICTURES: Italy's art squad save cultural heritage damaged in earthquakes






Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome’s Trevi Fountain

With the return of tourism and scorching temperatures, Rome’s fountains are once again attracting visitors hoping to cool off with a midnight swim.

Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome's Trevi Fountain

In the latest incident, a 26-year-old Spanish man was fined 450 euros after taking a dip in the Trevi Fountain in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Rome’s city police apprehended and fined the man after he was spotted swimming in the 18th-century monument at around 5am, according to local media reports.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Every summer, hapless foreign visitors face fines of hundreds of euros after falling foul of Rome’s strict ban on taking a dip in public fountains – with the city mayor warning tourists that the centuries-old Baroque monuments are “not swimming pools”.

In April, two Dutch tourists also faced fines totalling over €1,000 after their own ill-advised splash in the Trevi Fountain.

The Roman landmark is one of the city’s main magnets for badly-behaved visitors, but tourists have also been fined after cooling off in the Santa Maria fountain in Trastevere, believed to be the city’s oldest. 

Since 2018, anyone caught misbehaving at Rome’s monuments can also face a temporary ‘Daspo’ ban from the area – similar to an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) in the UK – which allows city police to restrict the movement of people they deem a threat to public order.

READ ALSO: From selfie brawls to midnight swims: Tourists behaving badly at the Trevi Fountain

But a plan to erect a one-metre-high glass and steel barrier around the Trevi fountain to protect it from unruly visitors now appears to have been abandoned after arts and heritage experts called the idea “foolish”.

Fines for swimming in the fountains have been in place since 2015, but this hasn’t stopped determined visitors from recreating scenes from La Dolce Vita and even some locals from taking a dip – – with or without their clothes.

Swimming in the wrong place is just one of the offences regularly committed by visitors, with graffiti and vandalism a common problem at many of Italy’s famous monuments.

READ ALSO: 15 strange ways to get into trouble on holiday in Italy

In Rome alone, this year tourists have made headlines for everything from breaking into the Colosseum to enjoy a drink with a view to driving a car down the Spanish Steps.

Other Italian tourism hotspots, including Florence and Venice, also have varying local rules in place aimed at curbing rowdy behaviour.