DESPAIRING villagers are appealing for help to catch the thieves who are desecrating the walls of their 14th century Grade I-listed church.
About 20m of red sandstone blocks have been stolen from the churchyard wall of St Mary’s in Thornton-le-Moors over recent weeks.
The thieves, who have been striking at night, are targeting a supporting wall – prompting fears the church’s graveyard could subside.
Parish vicar the Rev Margaret Fletcher said: “It’s holding up a five or six foot-bank which is around the churchyard and graves.
“I have had meetings with the police because this has been ongoing and I don’t know how we can tackle it at all. At the moment we are just trying to secure those that are left.
“They are round capping stones and they’re quite big, so they’re obviously being stolen to order.
“We are waiting to see what the conservation officer and insurance company have to say. But they are not going to keeping paying out if the stones are just going to be stolen again.”
A chapel has been present on the site of St Mary’s since Saxon times and was recorded in the Domesday Book.
The church building has benefited from £350,000 of renovations under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust – but the churchyard and walls do not fall within their remit.
Anne Robertson, whose house neighbours the church, said: “It’s heartbreaking. It’s a supporting wall with beautiful sandstone topping and it’s gradually being stolen.
“It can’t be replaced because the church is hundreds of years old. I’m sure it’s done to order.”
Anyone with information regarding the thefts is asked to contact Cheshire police on 101.