Church bosses have vowed to keep a Highland Perthshire church open to all visitors despite the theft of a historic hand bell from the premises.
The 7th century Celtic quadrangular hand-bell is made of iron, coated with bronze, and has been in the possession of the community at Fortingall for 1,300 years.
Horrified church staff discovered it was missing from its specially-designed niche behind the church pulpit on Friday evening.
The church is open to all visitors – tourists and worshippers – from April to October, being locked at night.
Fortingall’s minister, the Reverend Anne Brennan, made a plea for its safe return and said that she hoped that the incident would not force them to restrict access to the building in future.
She said: “Everybody is upset and annoyed, and disappointed that somebody would break the lock to get it.
“I am responsible for three churches in the area and we try to keep them open as a quiet space for people to worship and to investigate the heritage of the local area.
“I would like to think that we wouldn’t have to close the doors. It would be sad if we had to do that but it might be something that we have to contemplate.”
She added that she feared the thief believed the bell was valuable in the monetary sense.
“It’s part of the history of the church in the local area, not just the Church of Scotland,” she said. “It’s one of only 19 Scottish handbells. The present church was built in 1901 with a special niche but it’s been in the area for 1,300 years.
“It’s not made of a valuable metal but its value comes from the history. Because it was behind a barrier someone obviously thought it was valuable in the monetary sense.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “A 7th century, Celtic quadrangular hand-bell made of iron, coated with bronze was stolen from the Fortingall Church near to Aberfeldy, Perthshire, sometime between Sunday September 3 2017 and Friday September 8 2017.
“This is a very distinctive artefact and has been in the possession of the Fortingall and Glenlyon Church for about 1200 years, having significant sentimental value although no monetary value.
“The bell was encased behind a locked metal cage within a niche purposely built into the wall of the church which has been broken into and the bell removed.”
Fortingall is famous for it’s yew tree, which legend has it was a play place for Pontius Pilate, who is said to have been born in the local area.