Rev. James Lyons of St. John the Baptist Church in Manayunk was on his way to mass when he found out the church had been robbed.
Nearly 45-feet of century-old rod iron fencing was taken from outside the church on Rector St. at some point between Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Construction crews had removed up to $35,000 worth of fencing from the church entrance in order to replace the walkway surrounding the church and build a new handicap ramp.
They placed the railings out in front of the church, where Father Lyons last glimpsed at them from his window on Sunday night.
On Tuesday morning, the maintenance director, informed Father Lyons of the strange disappearance.
“Jeff Swider came over at six in the morning and said something didn’t look right over there,” Lyons said.
Eight or ten railings had been removed, each panel weighing between 600 and 800 pounds.
“So they would have needed help,” Father Lyons said of the unknown culprits.
The ornamental ironwork is more than 100 years old, “so it’s fairly irreplaceable and it’s extremely expensive,” he said, adding that if the railings are replaced, they could cost up to $100,000.
The pastor said a neighbor told him she “heard something around 1 or 2 a.m. outside but thought it was just college kids coming up Main Street bars.” The noise did not last long, according to the neighbor.
Construction workers had planned to reinstall the fencing today or tomorrow.
The church has notified all of the salvage arts organizations, in case the theives try to bring it to one of them for cash, but hasn’t decided what to do yet, in hopes the fencing will turn up.
If the railings down turn up, the church may have to replace the fencing with other unused fence sections around their cemetery, Father Lyons said. The church doesn’t have enough money to replace them.
Handicap ramp repairs slated for completion last Friday, are now scheduled to finish this Friday.
Police have not informed the church of any leads on a culprit. The parish and finance council are meeting tonight to decide if they will offer a reward.
The last Father Lyons heard of an incident like this was in the early 1990s when someone broke into the church and stole brass candle sticks and gold chalices.