For centuries, people have stolen religious artifacts in Europe, including chunks of religious buildings, but Britain is in the midst of an accelerating crime wave that some experts call the most concerted assault on churches since the religious conflicts of the Reformation. Only instead of doctrinal differences, the motivation is the near-record price that lead - the stuff many old church roofs are made of - is fetching on commodity markets.
"The local parish church has become a victim of international demand for metals," said Chris Pitt, a spokesman for Ecclesiastical, a company that specializes in insuring religious buildings and other heritage sites in Britain.
The price of lead on global markets has rocketed sevenfold in the past six years, largely because of rising demand from industrializing countries like China and India. Centuries ago, its malleability made it a popular building material; now it is sought after mainly as a source for batteries for vehicles and backup power systems for computer and mobile phone networks. It is also used to make bullets and shot, cables and paints.
....A critical problem for Britain's churches is that many go unused for long periods of time, largely because of a decline in church-going. Services...in Edmondthorpe, for example, are sometimes held just six times a year.
In some cases, clergy and parishioners only discover roof thefts once rain pours into the building, damaging cherished items like carved wooden screens and ancient organs. Such thefts can mean thousands of pounds of structural damage, too.
....Historical preservation rules require many churches to replace roofs with original building materials, including lead, despite its attractiveness to thieves and its cost. So parishioners fear thieves might return after repairs have been made.