STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Three national treasures of Sweden — two crowns and an orb made for the funerals of King Charles IX and his wife, Christina the Elder, in the 17th century — have been stolen in an audacious midday theft from a cathedral near Stockholm.

The two thieves smashed a showcase at the cathedral in Strangnas, a town on Lake Malar, on Tuesday, according to its dean, the Rev. Christofer Lundgren. However, the criminals might be disappointed with their haul, because the crowns and orb were meant for burial purposes and have a relatively low intrinsic value, despite being made of gold.

“The stones applied to these crowns are not diamonds, they are rock crystals and pearls,” Mr. Lundgren said. “The worst thing that could happen is that these thieves do not fully understand what these objects are and their value and the importance of them. And that they would be melted.”

“If they would show up at any auction house in Europe, I’m sure they would be recognized,” he added. “These are not things that you can sell or show in Sweden or even Europe. They are well known. They are well documented.”

When the theft occurred, Mr. Lundgren said, no one else was in the publicly accessible room where the artifacts were displayed, though four other people, including a priest and a janitor, were in the building. He said witnesses had seen the thieves make their getaway across the lake in a speedboat.

The police dispatched helicopters, boats and officers on foot once alerted to the theft. But Lake Malar is one of the largest in Sweden, with more than 8,000 islands and skerries and several cities on its perimeter, including Stockholm to the east. “So you can head in several different directions,” Thomas Agnevik, a police spokesman, said on Wednesday.

“We think it’s an incredibly limited market for this type of booty,” Mr. Agnevik added. “Either it’s a very advanced theft someone has ordered or they are people who don’t understand the value.” Investigations are continuing, he said.

Lars Amreus, director general of the Swedish National Heritage Board, a government agency, said he was stunned by the theft.

“This happened during the middle of the day in an open cathedral where there were people in the cathedral at the point of the theft,” he said. “They were kept in locked showcases with an alarm and they still managed to get away.”

“Of course, it’s absolutely devastating. These are our national heritage items of great significance,” he added.

The bishop of Strangnas, Johan Dalman, said in a statement issued to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that the theft was a “disrespectful and callous act that strikes against all of us for whom the cathedral and its rich history means so very much.” It was “a theft of a piece of Swedish history,” he added, and “a blow against us as a nation.”

The getaway method, though unusual, has at least one precedent in Sweden. In 2000, three armed robbers confronted guards at the National Museum in Stockholm and made off with two works by Renoir and a self-portrait by Rembrandt. Those thieves also escaped by speedboat, but they and their accomplices were later caught, and they were charged and sent to jail in 2001.

Orignially published in NYT.

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