A man and woman could hold vital clues to the theft from a church of six valuable paintings depicting scenes from the Stations of the Cross.
The works, commissioned in 1946, were by stained glass artist Evie Hone and had hung in Ss Peter and Paul’s Church Kiltullagh, Athenry, Co Galway.
Gardaí have alerted auction houses in Ireland and Interpol has also been notified in an effort to prevent the incomplete set being sold off.
The paintings — the third, fourth, fifth, 10th, 11th and 12th stations — were stolen on June 22.
Gardaí said a man, described as heavy set, and a woman were seen in a small, old, silver car, possibly a Nissan Micra, near the front of the church on the day of the theft. They were thought to be aged in their late 30s.
The woman, who was standing outside the car, was on the phone and was wearing a long, flowing skirt.
They were parked close to the car park near the Kiltullagh community centreopposite Ss Peter and Paul’s on the afternoon of the theft.
Detective Inspector Michael Coppinger said house-to-house inquiries in the village area had turned up only the one suspicious sighting.
“These paintings are of tremendous value to the church and the local people. They represent part of a collection but they are also part of the fabric of the whole parish,” he said.
The theft is believed to have occurred on Saturday June 22 between 10am and 9.15pm when the church would have been open. Keys to the back door of the church had been stolen a week earlier.
The six paintings, three taken from either side of the cruciform-shaped church, were part of a set of 14 and are worth considerably less than if the set was complete. A set of 14 gouaches, or watercolours, created by Hone as she prepared to paint the set, were sold by Whyte’s auction house in Dublin in 2005 for €42,000.
The full set of paintings of the stations are valued at up to €150,000, or individually €5,000-€6,000.
Auctioneer Ian Whyte said: “The stolen paintings would be worth money if it was possible to sell them on the open market.
“I would suggest that whoever stole them would want to sell them but they would not try to sell them here. Most likely if they have been moved on, they have been sold in England.”
The Antiques Trade Gazette alerted dealers and auction houses in Britain to the theft earlier this month.
Crimestoppers issued an appeal for information and a reward may be offered.
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