A 15th-century crucifix which survived the Battle of Waterloo has been stolen from a chapel at the site of the battlefield.
The wooden artwork, known as the Hougoumont Christ, miraculously survived a fire with only charred feet during a June 18, 1815 battle at the Château Hougoumont, the site of a pivotal engagement. It is about six feet tall and six feet wide and weighs about 440 lbs.
The crucifix is one of the emblematic symbols of Napoleon Bonaparte’s final battle and was described in Victor Hugo’s famous novel “Les Miserables.”
The battelfield’s curator, Yves Van Der Cruysen, was outraged by the theft.
“We know that the cross must have been seriously damaged by these wicked people,” he told the British newspaper The Independent. “We found large splinters of wood which must have come from the figure of Christ itself.”
He said the cross had no particular value except as a memorial of the battle. Because its sale would be “impossible,” he blamed the theft on “vandals” and “people who just want to draw attention to themselves.”
The thieves dismantled stonework around the alarmed chapel’s door and removed the bolt. They then restored the lock and masonry, which helped disguise the theft.
British Major-General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, who chairs a group planning commemorations of the battle of Waterloo in 2015, also condemned the thefts.
“Enormous trouble was taken by these people. The cross is unsaleable publicly but there are some very strange people out there, who are obsessed with the Battle of Waterloo,” he told The Daily Mail. “I fear the cross may have been stolen on the orders of some very rich person who fancied having it in his own possession.”
Its loss would be “an enormous blow,” he added.
A memorial stone to British troops and their allies, located at Quatre-Bras farm in another part of the battlefield, was also stolen.
Interpol officers have issued an international arrest warrant in connection with the theft.