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Nantes basilica’s ‘golden angels’ found 13 years after being stolen

The statues had been taken down from the church’s spire for renovation works, when they disappeared

The golden angels decorating the spire of the Basilique Saint-Nicolas in Nantes have returned after being stolen in 2009 Pic: Dennis van der Water / A-Babe / Shutterstock

The eight golden angel statues which looked down on the city of Nantes from the spire of its Basilique Saint-Nicolas have been found, 13 years after they were stolen in 2009. 

The two-metre-high statues “symbolise the eight Beatitudes of Jesus. It is a unique architectural and decorative choice,” the parish priest Père Loïc Le Huen told Le Figaro. “Normally it is a saint, such as Saint Michael the Archangel, who is represented.”

The stolen angels’ place is currently being kept by copies, which Père Le Huen described as “magnificent,” but added “we are happy that the original have finally been found.” 

In 2009, the Basilica was entering the final stage of renovations which had begun 13 years before and cost €15million. The angels were taken down and it was discovered that they were hollow and made of lead. 

“Like a human being, they were wrinkled and could not be restored. After careful consideration, we decided to create identical copies in bronze,” architect Laurence Lobry-Lajunias said. 

The originals were left in the presbytery courtyard, no one paying them much attention. Over the course of a decade, they were gradually forgotten, when suddenly in September 2020 the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles discovered one of them listed in a Nantes brocante brochure. 

Read also: ‘Brocantes’ and antique markets - a lucky dip of France's rich history

It was being sold for €19,000. The authorities began looking for the seven other statues, realising that they had all been stolen. 

A first was found at the premises of the company which had made the replicas, and the six other statues were then gradually located, one of them in Spain. 

The angels’ new owners were from a variety of backgrounds, including an artist, a business owner and a notaire. They all said that they had acquired them from an entrepreneur in 2009.

By the end of this summer, this person had been arrested by departmental police officers, and admitted to having stolen the statues.

“He thought that these statues were construction site rubbish and that he was free to resell them,” the authorities said. 

The city of Nantes is now working to recondition the original angels so that they can be kept in a secure store 

Père Le Huen said: “They could come back to the Basilica, where they had always been. We have a huge space in the triforium. They would look beautiful there, above the choir.” 

The Basilique Saint-Nicolas is “a landmark monument of Neo-Gothic architecture, not only in Nantes, but across France. It was rebuilt in the nineteenth century by the architect Jean-Baptiste Lassus on the foundations of a fifteenth century church,” Hervé Chouinard, architect and head of Bâtiments de France said. 

Read more: Make sense of... Bâtiments de France

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