Police appeal after theft of skulls

21 skulls have been stolen from their resting-place in the ossuary of St Leonard’s church in Hythe, Kent. Sometime between 4pm on Sunday 15 July 2018 and 10.40am the following day, a door had its lock damaged and the skulls were stolen from their resting-place in the crypt at St Leonard’s Church in Oak Walk.

Reverend Andrew Sweeney, Priest-in-Charge of St Leonard’s said, “The people of our church and town are appalled by this crime. Each skull taken represents the mortal remains of a human being who deserves to rest in peace. There is no conceivable reason for any of these skulls to be in the hands of anyone but the church. We are keen to see them back in their rightful place in the crypt.

“As far as we know, the skulls and bones in our care are the remains of people who were buried in St Leonard’s and other local churchyards in the 12th to 15th centuries – and possibly earlier. Ossuaries, charnel-houses and chapels were probably less unusual in the past than they are today. They provide a resting-place for human remains that have to be moved or re-buried for some reason. In Hythe, the collection of bones probably comes from reburials when our church was extended in the 11th to 13th centuries, and when other local churchyards were closed and cleared.

“We are very aware of the sensitivities of opening the ossuary to the public, but we believe that its historic interest makes it important to do so. To encounter human mortal remains can be a profound and fascinating experience, enabling us to learn about historic attitudes to death, and to reflect on our own thoughts and feelings about life and death. St Leonard’s church is always open to visitors, offering a quiet reflective space alongside the ossuary, and our visitors books offer a powerful testimony to the value of this collection.

“We have always relied on the assumption of human decency in our visitors, and compassion for those whose remains rest in peace in the sacred space of our church. We are saddened that the greed, selfishness or stupidity of some people has destroyed that assumption of common human values. We have now had to resort to expensive and complex security measures which we once thought unnecessary.

“I am grateful to the police for their help in this matter, and ask that anyone who has any information relating to this crime get in touch with the police urgently. I hope and pray that the skulls can be found and returned.”

Anyone with information about the burglary, is asked to call Kent Police on 01843 222289 quoting 16-419. Alternatively, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers in Kent anonymously on 0800 555 111.