Thieves in Italy have stolen an underwater statue of Christ which was an attraction for divers and a location for scuba-diving couples to tie the knot.
The bronze statue, “Christ of the Deep”, has stood on the seabed off the Adriatic coast since it was installed in 1994.
Its theft was discovered this week when divers went to carry out routine maintenance and cleaning of the art work, which is 32 inches tall and weighs 33lbs.
Police believe the statue may have been stolen to order, perhaps by a collector – it was made by a well-known Italian sculptor called Vito Pancella, who died in 2005.
The statue was located at a depth of about 20ft, near the village of Rocca San Giovanni in the central region of Abruzzo.
“This is a deplorable act that has affected the whole local community,” said Andrea Monaco, the president of Ursa Minor, a diving club, whose members discovered the theft.
“It was not just a religious symbol but also the venue for an annual torch-bearing ceremony at sea, held on the first Sunday of every August.”
Scuba-diving couples have even got married in front of the statue, he said.
It is just one of dozens of underwater statues dotted around the coast of Italy, many of them either figures of Christ or the Madonna.
One of the most famous is an 8ft-tall bronze statue of Christ that sits on the seabed in the bay of San Fruttuoso, in the northwestern region of Liguria. It was placed there in 1954, submerged at a depth of 56ft.
An exact replica stands on the seabed off the coast of Key Largo in Florida.