A priceless 700-year-old icon was stolen yesterday from a cliff-side monastery in the eastern Peloponnese, prompting the police to launch an air and land search for the religious painting which many worshippers believe can work miracles. Police said that thieves broke into the Elona Monastery in Leonidio at about 5 a.m. after smashing a small window. They stole the icon, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, as well as a number of valuable votive offerings that had been placed next to the painting by pilgrims.
Officers believe the robbery was well planned. A replica of the icon is usually put on display to protect the original but because Tuesday was the Dormition of the Virgin holiday, the nuns had put out the priceless original for worshippers to see. An indication of the significance of the theft is that Deputy Chief of the Greek Police (ELAS) Stelios Syros arrived in the area to coordinate the search for the thieves. Roadblocks were set up around the prefecture of Arcadia and in other parts of the Peloponnese in the hope of preventing the robbers from getting away. A police helicopter flew over mountainous areas to detect any suspicious movements.
The icon attracts thousands of worshippers to the monastery. Construction of the Elona Monastery, in its current form, began in 1809 on the spot where the icon was apparently discovered hanging from a tree centuries earlier.