A cherished mahogany statue of Christ has been welcomed back to a Wellington chapel after it was stolen more than 12 years ago.
The historic statue was stolen from the Futuna Chapel in Karori sometime between 1999 and 2000.
The life-sized statue, weighing more than 50kg was believed to have been stolen in a premeditated operation in which several people using ladders would have been needed to prise it off a cross on a wall and lower it to the ground.
Last week police recovered it at an unoccupied rural property in Ahititi, Taranaki.
A crown of thorns that was on Christ's head has still not been found.
Nick Bevin of the Friends of Futuna Charitable Trust said the statue's return was attributed to a person who, by chance, heard it mentioned in the media in March.
That person a week later heard someone else talk about it "and they put two and two together".
They then rang the trust. "The ball was rolling then and was not stopped until today," Mr Bevin said.
This afternoon the 1.8m statue was carried from a police van back into the chapel while a karakia was sung.
A prayer was offered by Taranaki kaumatua Sam Jackson as the statue lay at the bottom of the cross it was stolen from.
"It's been lost for a while, but know it's back. Welcome home."
The Auckland artist who carved the statue, Jim Allen, was at the chapel to see its return.
He said it was a great day.
"It's a day that I was beginning to think I was never going to see."
He was wondering what the statue would look like after its time away, but it survived with just a finger broken and some scratches.
"I think with a good clean he's going to be all right.
"I don't see any great problem with him taking his place back on the crucifix again."
Father Barry Scannell blessed the statue with holy water.
"It's a great day of celebration involved with its return, it's a great day of celebration for us in the church."
Mr Bevin said the statue was still "in limbo" however, as it would be now taken to the national museum in Wellington, Te Papa, until a new crown of thorns was made for it and new nails created to erect it back on the cross in the chapel.
Detective Senior Sergeant Warwick McKee of Wellington police said the investigation was still ongoing into who stole the statue.
He said police had been to a Taranaki property on an unrelated matter and the statue had been seen there.
He said it was "really rewarding" to be able to return the statue.
"Often there's a bit of heartache in the police but one of these days today, it's great to be able to get a fantastic figure back to the community."
The statue was specifically made for the Futuna Chapel.
Hawkes Bay architect John Scott was commissioned by the Society of Mary to design a chapel for their spiritual retreat in Karori in 1958.
Built by the Brothers of the society themselves, Futuna Chapel opened in 1961.
The Society of Mary sold the Futuna complex to developers in 2000 and it was turned into residential units.
- APNZBy Rebecca Quilliam Email Rebecca