June is the month that is traditionally dedicated to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so maybe it’s a good time for us all to pause and be collectively appalled at the theft of a painting of the Sacred Heart from a famous church in the center of Rome. Even though the story has a happy ending, you have to shake your head and wonder, “What was he thinking?”
On the side-altars of many parish churches, it is common to find a smaller painting in front of the larger altarpiece. Often, although not always, that smaller painting is of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as is seen in this example. Remember that many of Rome’s churches were built and/or decorated during the 1500’s, a good hundred years before devotion to the Sacred Heart became popular thanks to the visions of Saint Margaret-Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). The large painted altarpieces were thus already in place long before images of the Sacred Heart became a “thing”–which is why smaller paintings were frequently added later in this way.
As you can read here, a few weeks ago an especially fine painting of the Sacred Heart disappeared from the Chiesa Nuova, right in the center of Rome. No, this doesn’t happen very often, and it certainly doesn’t happen in the Chiesa Nuova… because this particular church happens to have fully operational security cameras visible in several places. When the theft was discovered, the police reviewed the film footage, and realized that a local art-conservationist had been near the altar, and then could be seen on tape carrying something out of the church.
When he was confronted, the man confessed and gave the painting and its frame to the police–who also discovered in his studio a candlestick that had disappeared back in February from yet another church in central Rome.
Was he seriously planning to sell these items somewhere on the black market? Who would want to buy a stolen painting of the Sacred Heart? It isn’t clear whether the police are dealing here with a soul-less thief or “just” an elderly crackpot, kind of like the aged Auntie who comes for a visit and steals one of your teaspoons. The one thing we do know is that Chiesa Nuova has its Sacred Heart back–and in the not-so-distant future, this shady character is going to be making a little visit to the courthouse.