In this season of goodwill, someone has committed a criminal -- many would say sinful -- act against the St. James Episcopal Church in Warrenton.
A valuable King James Bible, which church members believe may be more than 370 years old, was stolen from its case in a church office early this month. The book may have been missing for days before its loss was discovered, church officials say.
Warrenton police said an original would be worth at least $20,000.
"We were all surprised and saddened that someone would take what is a historic document to the church and Fauquier County," said the Rev. Prentice Kinser III, church rector. "We are hopeful that we can get it back."
St. James Episcopal, a 500-member church founded in 1730, has offered a $500 reward for the speedy return of the Bible. The congregation fears the Bible may deteriorate in uncontrolled conditions.
The brown five-inch-thick book was first owned by the Waller family, thought to have moved to Fauquier County from England in the 1700s, Kinser said. Inscribed in the artifact are names of Wallers born in the 1600s, he said.
Kinser said the Bible long ago made its way back to England, where it came into the possession of Wilkie Collins, a 19th-century author known as the father of the modern detective story.
Collins' name appears on the book's leather spine, the minister said.
"A member of our church in 1930 was in an antique shop in London and recognized the Waller names as members of our parish," Kinser said.
The member bought the book and returned it to rural Fauquier County.
"It's been preserved in that case for 50 years," said the minister.
Lt. M. L. Robson of the Warrenton police said his department had no leads in the case.
"Being a church person, I would describe it as a very sad situation," Robson said. The padlock on the wood and glass case had been sawed off, he said.
So far, the congregation is willing to forgive and forget, Kinser said.
"We're not feeling anger, but a desire to have the Bible returned," Kinser said.
"We have always kept our doors unlocked during the week so people could come in and worship," he said. "That won't change. We just never imagined anyone would take the Bible."
Church Music Director Mary Lou Hartsell described her feelings as those of disbelief. "That Bible has been here so long."
Sallie Brittle, 85, who described herself as the "last Waller living here in Fauquier," has stronger feelings. "I think it's outrageous," she said. "I don't see how anyone could be so dumb . . . . I'd like to get my hands on the people who did it."