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Galilee’s Basilica of Transfiguration desecrated by thieves

Robbery, not religious extremism, thought to blame after chalices taken, donation box raided and Eucharist wafers left scattered

Tabernacle for the Eucharist vandalized in the Basilica of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)
Tabernacle for the Eucharist vandalized in the Basilica of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)

A church in northern Israel built on a spot revered as a Christian holy site was vandalized, with chalices stolen, icons damaged and a donation box robbed, a church official said Tuesday.

Church officials believe the motive for the incident at the Basilica of the Transfiguration, which took place at some point between Sunday night and Monday morning, was robbery and not religious extremism, said Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for bishops in the Holy Land. (Jewish extremists have been responsible for previous vandalism at other Christian sites in Israel.)

The police agreed with that assessment, saying it “appeared to be a criminal matter,” and not nationalistically or religiously motivated.

Abunassar could not say how many chalices were stolen from the church or how much money had been taken from the donation box. According to police, it was less than NIS 385 ($100).

Communion wafers were also thrown on the ground, and a statue was tossed outside the church. It was later recovered by the investigating officers, a police spokesperson said.

Eucharist bread scattered by vandals on the floor of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)
Eucharist bread scattered by vandals on the floor of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)

The Eucharist wafers are used for communion and have special holiness as they are believed by Catholics to contain in some form the presence of Christ.

No graffiti was painted on the church, as usually occurs in cases of vandalism by extremists, Abunassar said.

Police opened their investigation on Monday; no arrests have been made yet, a police spokesperson said.

Eucharist bread scattered by vandals on the floor of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)
Eucharist wafers scattered by vandals on the floor of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, October 25, 2016 (Courtesy)

The church is located on Mount Tabor in the Galilee region of northern Israel, where Christians believe Jesus, Peter, James and John climbed a high mountain and Jesus became radiant and spoke with Moses and Elijah, an event known as the Transfiguration.

Tourists and pilgrims regularly visit the church built on the site, which is part of a Franciscan monastery complex.

The current church was completed in 1924 and was built on the ruins of an ancient (4th–6th-century) Byzantine church and a 12th-century church of the Crusader Kingdom period.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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