CHURCHES in rural areas are being urged to consider security measures after an 8th Century stone artefact was stolen from a church featuring one of the finest Saxon towers in the north of England.

The statue at All Saints' Church, in Hovingham, near Helmsley, was originally part of a stone cross, and is likely to be contemporary with the shrine panel still preserved in the church.

Police released details of the theft, which happened between May 23 and June 6, a week after a Yorkshire MP held a House of Commons debate about stone theft, calling for a taskforce, increased fines for stone thieves and an awareness campaign, saying the crime had reached epidemic proportions.

Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney said Yorkshire's heritage was being systematically dismantled and highlighted a call for the sale of stone to be registered in the same way as scrap metal.

He said: "Nowhere has been safe from this crime.

"Many of these thefts take place in broad daylight with thieves posing as workmen - sometimes they are even brazen enough to wear dayglo jackets - so vigilance is definitely required."

Police said the artefact, made from sandstone from quarries at Aislaby, near Whitby, demonstrates the links between the Anglo-Saxon church and Whitby Abbey, which owned the quarries and exported stone for sculptural monuments to sites across North Yorkshire.

PC Nick Durkin said the 51cm-high and 23cm-wide sculpture was very heavy and the thieves must have used a vehicle to remove it.

He added: “Experts have described the stolen sculpture as unique in its form, layout and the quality of its carving.

"We are making extensive enquiries to return this important historic artefact to its rightful location, and I would urge anyone who knows its whereabouts to get in touch straight away.”

A church spokesman said its congregation felt violated by the theft of the sculpture, which is particularly notable for its ornate and accomplished carving.

He said while the church's leaders wanted to keep the grade II* building open for worshippers and for those who wanted to experience its history, they would have to consider locking it to safeguard its antiquities, including a 9th Century Annunciation Stone in the Lady Chapel and a 10th Century Wheel Cross on the south side of the tower.

Church security advice is available at the rural crime pages of the North Yorkshire Police website at

Anyone with information about the theft should call police on 101 or email