One of the most frustrating things about my research into the Archaeological Society trip to South Bohemia is that every time I try to visit a church I find it locked. Being British I expect to walk in and look around or at least go to a nearby house to collect a key. On a walk with a friend I discussed why this was and she told me about the problem the country has with thefts from churches. As a result churches have to be locked up and visitors like myself denied.
Now Ceske Novinny has run an article on the problem which shocked and appalled me. Apparently 90 per cent of religious buildings have been burgled since 1989.
In the article the diocesan heritage preserver to the Prague Archbishopric is quoted as saying "About a half of Gothic and Renaissance works of art and roughly one-third of baroque artefacts have disappeared (from Czech churches) in the past 20 years."
The culprits are often organized gangs linked to specialist foreign art traffickers who take the stolen artefacts across the border to Austria and Germany. The situation has been exacerbated by the relaxation of the border with the creation of the Schengen area. It is a terrible thing that these precious artefacts, which have a religious and cultural value which exceeds their monetary one, managed to survive atheist communism only to fall foul of black market forces under democracy.