Two icons officials called exceptionally rare were hacked from a wooden screen and a third was damaged in a 15th-century country church in southern England.
The charity that maintains the medieval-era Holy Trinity church in Torbryan, Devon, in southwestern England, said the theft was "devastating," The Guardian reported Tuesday.
The stolen panels depicted St. Victor of Marseilles and St. Margaret of Antioch. A third image of an unnamed female saint was damaged.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of the Churches Conservation Trust, described the works as "significant," but said they were worth more in the church than in the hands of a collector.
He said "this crime will deprive all visitors and researchers of an important part of Devon heritage and is essentially a theft of public property."
The icons are considered rare because few such works survived the Reformation, a period during which many Catholic churches were destroyed or damaged.
The church, built between 1450 and 1470, is in a remote location and not regularly used for worship. It is looked after by volunteers.
The thefts, discovered by a maintenance worker, occurred between July 22 and Aug. 8.