Ex-voto wall, Sanctuary of Chalma in Mexico State.
Even these can be stolen for resale.
Not just to protect sanctuaries from anti-Catholic desecration and sacrilege either ...
It’s a low-blow, even for a burglar. Española Police said someone broke into an old chapel and made off with all kinds of religious items, even some artifacts. The quaint chapel in Santa Cruz near Española has been a place of worship for the Catholic group, Las Carmelitas for years.
“There’s a lot of history,” said Tania Bustos, a member of Las Carmelitas.
Over the weekend, it’s members found someone broke in through a window and stole loads of religious items. Among stolen items, are statues of the Virgin Mary used in prayer processions, an old banner of the blessed mother and pictures from the wall are missing. There are empty spaces on the alter, religious relics are gone.
“They took several saints, a set of curtains, several retablos, wood carvings,” said Detective Corporal Solomon Romero, of the Española Police Department.
Even a set of embroidered curtains were stolen. Bustos said much of the items are centuries old, some from Spain. Other items were donated.
“It’s very meaningful, they’re priceless items, they cannot be replaced,” said Bustos. But the burglar didn’t get any money from the break-in, which is all the more puzzling for members of Las Carmelitas.
“I can’t imagine why they would want to take them,” said Bustos. “I was just saddened by that.” - Source
Scavenging for art and antiquities thieves.
People shouldn't be surprised - especially folks living in New Mexico, where art galleries and shops deal in such antiquities, in addition to a healthy market in contemporary works of traditional religious art. New Mexico is well known for Spanish Colonial treasures, mission churches and chapels, as well as the retablos and santos they contain - antique and new. Religious artifacts, paintings, carvings, textiles, relics, and sacred vessels and crowns and accessories, continue to be highly collectible items and demand high prices. Over the years I have gathered a modest personal collection from reputable dealers and collectors, but the cost grew to be prohibitive. I have also shown and sold my own art work in Santa Fe.
Just like Europe, Mexico, Central America, and South America have suffered religious art thieves for decades, it appears that now the United States, especially the Southwest and California may expect the same. Years ago I had dealers tell me that Mexico and Cuzco were already picked clean, and today prohibitions are in place to prevent the loss of national treasures of a certain vintage.
Obscure art and antiques that are stolen can be sold at estate auctions or to small antique dealers who buy and sell at such venues as flea markets and antique shows. Such treasures also find their way onto websites which specialize in religious artifacts and art. If a church or chapel suffers such losses, those responsible, and/or curators of such sites should scour the Internet, especially sites such as Craig's list, Ebay, 1st Dibs, Lofty - any website which would sell arts and antiques. I would also alert dealers and galleries to be on the look out for the stolen items.
Chapels and churches in New Mexico - beware. Catalog and photograph your relics, santos and retablos, textiles, and so on. Document and protect precious antiques, as well as contemporary acquisitions and furnishings. And do install some sort of security system.