HYNDBURN'S oldest church has been left to foot a huge repair bill after it was targeted by burglars three times in a month.
St James' Church Kirk, Church, a Grade II listed building, suffered thousands of pounds-worth of damage when the raiders smashed valuable stained-glass windows dating back to the turn of the century.
In the most recent incident on Monday, the intruders broke in through a round window panel behind the altar. They then smashed a stone column and damaged a silver-plated candlestick before searching the vestry and leaving through the front door. They left empty-handed this time, although at least £60 was taken from collection boxes in the two previous incidents, when burglars smashed through two windows at the side of the church.
Church rector Father Neville Ashton said the three windows could cost £15,000 to replace.
He said: "I have no idea why people are doing this but all the parishioners are very angry about it."
Councillor John Broadley, a warden at the church, said they were currently researching the background of the stained-glass windows so that they could make accurate replacements.
He added: "They must have used a ladder to get up to the windows and then they had to take the protective netting off them to break in. It makes you wonder if these are opportunist thieves who have read in the papers that some of our churches are closing down. But there is nothing inside for them to take. We're all sick of it."
PC Zoe Russo, of Accrington Police, said the most recent incident happened between 12.20am and 8am on Monday. She added that inquiries were continuing.
Church Kirk is not one of the churches threatened with closure under the recent C of E review. The church is the oldest in the borough and one of the oldest in Lancashire. It is thought a wooden church was erected on the site as early as the seventh century.
The oldest part of the current church dates back to the latter half of the 14th century and the tower was used as a watch tower durng the Wars of the Roses. It features two beautiful art nouveau windows designed by the renowned Edward Burns Jones and installed in 1891.