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Damage to the altar from a sledgehammer at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas on January 5. Subiaco Abbey

SUBIACO, Arkansas (LifeSiteNews) — A man in Arkansas who was arrested for destroying the altar of a Benedictine monastery is reported to have withheld from desecrating the tabernacle of the church when he looked at a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Jerrid Farnam, 32, of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, was arrested on Jan. 5 for property damage and theft at Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas. Farnam is in prison awaiting criminal trial.

Sheriff Jason Massey of the Logan County Sheriff’s Office recounted to Catholic News Agency that the suspect confessed to the crime when in custody and told the police that after putting his sledgehammer to the altar, “he looked up and saw a statue of Mary,” and couldn’t bring himself to break open the tabernacle in front of her as he had intended to do.

Farnam had broken gaping holes into the abbey’s marble altar in several places and had stolen the relics in the center of the altar, claiming he thought the bones of Jesus were contained there. Reportedly, Farnam was intoxicated during his arrest and is known to have had a history of substance abuse.

The Logan County Sheriff’s Office reported that two small brass box reliquaries were stolen. Abbot Elijah Owens, the superior of the monastery, said that one of the reliquaries contained relics of the Martyr Saints Boniface and Tiberius, and St. Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictines, and the other contained relics of the Martyr Saints Tiberius, Marcellus, and Justina.

“You can’t put a price on those relics. They’re 1,500 years old,” the abbot told CNA.

In a press release after the recovery of the relics, the abbey stated, “Both of these reliquaries were sealed into the altar on March 31, 1959, when Bishop Albert L. Fletcher of the Diocese of Little Rock consecrated the altar and Church … The relics will be placed again in the high altar once repairs are completed.”

Due to the desecration of the altar, the abbot and the monastic community undertook the “Public Prayer after the Desecration of a Church,” and stripped the altar bare until it can be repaired and rededicated.