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Stolen Virgin Mary statue recovered

Divine intervention has faithfully grounded the briefly gnome-adic life of Mary. Museum staff are devoutly investigating what happened, hoping to find out who preyed on the effigy of the beloved religious figure.
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The Exploration Place curator Alyssa Tobin looks over a statue of the young Virgin Mary which was recovered, after being stolen from the Saint Pius X Catholic Church. The church was built in 1913 at the Shelley Reserve.

Divine intervention has faithfully grounded the briefly gnome-adic life of Mary.

Museum staff are devoutly investigating what happened, hoping to find out who preyed on the effigy of the beloved religious figure. The historically-significant statue of the young Virgin Mary was housed in the equally significant old church located on the Shelley Reserve of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation. Someone stole it and started placing the statue around the area's outdoors, with photos popping up on social media much like "travelling gnome" pranks.

This was no garden kitch, said The Exploration Place CEO Tracy Calogheros. Whether you are a devout Christian or a history buff, there would be few who would support the vandalism this icon endured. Mary's position should never have been altered in the first place, Calogheros said angrily.

"It's terrifying for a museum person, to be quite honest," she said.

The statue, aged at more than 100 years, had sustained trauma to the head so recently that some fragments were found in the snow where it was wedged in a drift when museum staff were alerted to its whereabouts.

"The statue is hollow," explained The Exploration Place curator Alyssa Tobin.

"Snow was jammed all up inside, and the base of the statue had gotten so wet that the plaster was mooshy from moisture, so there is a drying process it has to go through.

"That will take about a month. Then we can look at what other repairs we might be able to do."

Calogheros said she has reached out to Lheidli T'enneh elders and officials for advice on what to do next with the statue.

The museum has an existing protocol with the area's resident Aboriginal foundation culture for storing their cultural artifacts.

Some, like stained glass windows and nine other statues from a nativity scene, are also germane to the old church.

"We will house it here and do our best to repair the statue in the interim, but this artifact rightly belongs to the Lheidli people and we will do with it exactly as they instruct," she said.

The statue was found in a gravel pit, after several moves on its social media misadventure.

The icon stands 145 centimetres tall and requires some effort for a single adult to lift.

A police file has been opened on this incident, so anyone with information on the theft of the statue is asked to call the Prince George RCMP, or pass it on to museum staff.