Arkansas monastery’s altar desecrated with sledgehammer, 1,500-year-old relics stolen

Subiaco vandalism Subiaco Abbey, in Subiaco, Arkansas, had its altar smashed with a hammer, and relics inside the altar stolen on Jan. 5, 2023. A suspect has been arrested and is set to be charged in connection with the attack. | Subiaco Abbey

The altar of an Arkansas Benedictine monastery was destroyed Thursday, and several relics of ancient saints were stolen. 

Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas, said in a press release that on Jan. 5, a man using “a regular hammer and sledgehammer/ax” began destroying the abbey’s marble altar by smashing it in different places. Founded in 1878, Subiaco is home to a community of 39 Benedictine monks.

Jerrid Farnam, 31, of Subiaco, Arkansas, was arrested Thursday afternoon in connection with the crimes.

The suspect left a gaping hole in the top of the altar and broke open stones that contain relics, the abbey said. Two reliquaries — small, brass-colored boxes that each contained three relics of saints from more than 1,500 years ago — were stolen, according to the Logan County Sheriff’s Office.

A closer look at the extent of the damage to the altar. Subiaco Abbey
A closer look at the extent of the damage to the altar. Subiaco Abbey

Father Elijah Owens, OSB, the abbot of the monastery, told CNA Friday that the relics contained in one of the reliquaries were those of St. Boniface, St. Tiberius, and St. Benedict of Nursia.

The other reliquary contained the relics of St. Tiberius, St. Marcellus, and St. Justina, Owens said.

The man approached the tabernacle and removed a cross located on top as well as the tabernacle’s veil before being “interrupted,” the abbey said. Neither the tabernacle nor the Eucharist were damaged, the abbey said.

Visitors to the abbey notified the leadership, and the Logan County Sheriff’s department was called and arrived at the scene. Subiaco Academy, the nearby school of boys in grades 7–12 run by the abbey, was “locked down as the investigation proceeded,” the abbey said.

When police arrived, the man was gone. Shortly after police investigated and left the scene, the man arrived back at the church, the abbey said. Police were again contacted.

A monk was speaking with the man and “it became clear” that the man was the perpetrator, the abbey said. The man was subsequently arrested, and police found one of the reliquaries with three relics in it in the man’s truck, the abbey said.

The reliquary containing the relics of St. Tiberius, St. Marcellus, and St. Justina have still not been found, Owens told CNA.

A hammer and a “sledgehammer/ax” were also found with marble dust on both of them, the abbey said.

“Throughout this, our monks continued with our regular communal prayers. Now that the gentleman has been caught and justice will proceed, may we also offer a prayer for him,” the abbey said.

“Due to the desecration of the altar, Abbot Elijah and the monastic community will undertake the penitential rite, reparation for the desecration, and offer a Mass of Reparation,” the abbey said.

The altar has been “stripped bare” and “all customary signs of joy and gladness have been put away,” the abbey said.

A portable altar will now be used until repairs are made, the abbey said.

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The vandalism of the altar took place under the Crucifix gracing Subiaco Abbey. Subiaco Abbey
The vandalism of the altar took place under the Crucifix gracing Subiaco Abbey. Subiaco Abbey

Police said that Farnam also entered a vacant house near the abbey. An item from the house was found in Farnam’s truck, police added. His truck was subsequently seized by police and towed.

Farnam has not been officially charged yet and his bond has not been set. 

“At this point, his anticipated charges are theft of property, criminal mischief in the first degree, residential burglary, breaking or entering, and public intoxication,” the sheriff’s office said.

Pending “the nature of the destruction and the difficulty in estimating the cost of the items destroyed and stolen and that an altar was desecrated,” his charges are subject to change, the sheriff’s office said.

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