St. Mary, built in the late 15th century, is located in a vineyard above the little Franconian town of Volkach. Volkach is one of the major towns in the Franconian wine area – most famous for its “Silvaner” grape in the equally famous “Bocksbeutel” – a type of bottle specific for this area.
In 1962 the church was the set for one of the most famous art thefts in German history: the so called “Madonnenraub” – Madonna robbery.
In the panorama, you might notice the Madonna in the rosary above the rather modern altar. This figure was made by Tilman Riemenschneider from 1521 to 1524. Tilman Riemenschneider is one of the most important sculptors at the transition from Late Gothic to Renaissance. His artistry and style are so unique and pre-eminent that his sculptures are easily recognised by anyone, who is only a bit familiar with this particular period. And exactly this was the problem of the thieves: They were completely unaware of the prominence of the sculpture they had acquired in such a rude and foremost illegal way and so their dealer had to tell them, that the sculpture could not at all be sold. Thus, he covered the sculpture in a special protective paint, wrapped it up and buried it.
The sculpture could well have been lost. But then the editor of one of the biggest German post-war magazines – Henry Nannen – published a proclamation. He would pay the amount of 100,000 Deutschmark as a ransom, if the sculpture was returned to him, so that he himself could return the sculpture to St. Mary’s. His proclamation was followed by an uproar in the media: How only could he offer money to criminals? But Nannen was guided by the hope that the Madonna in the Rosary would not be lost forever, and he was right. One year after the theft the Madonna was returned to Volkach after Nannen had paid the full amount of money.
But after all, this crime did not really pay. All the thieves were eventually caught and subsequently sentenced to imprisonment of up to six years.