MORE than £400 worth of church items which were stolen during a Midnight Mass service on Christmas Eve have been returned to their owners.

The items went missing from St Matthew’s Church in Market Street, Little Lever, in the early hours of Christmas Day.

Two cottas — short garments worn by priests and servers — which are worth £120 each, were stolen, along with two albs — white vestments reaching to the feet — both of which were worth £90.

The items are commonly worn during such church services as baptisms and funerals.

The church’s vicar, Reverend John Wiseman, aged 56, was conducting the service when the items were stolen from the area at the back at the building.

On Monday evening, he found the garments had been left outside his home.

He said: “It’s a great relief — it restores your faith in human nature. We were shocked that somebody had taken these items in the first place, not so much because of their material value, but because they have been used for so many community events.

“They are a celebration of Jesus Christ and I am very thankful that somebody has returned them.”

Also conducting the service on Christmas Eve was Reverend Canon Ian Anthony, whose alb was stolen, along with Mr Wiseman’s.

He said: “Towards the end of the service, we heard the door go click. We didn’t realise what had gone on until someone found girdles in the car park. It was a shock but, as Father John said, it was probably just a bit of high-spirited mischief.

“Word of mouth and social media have been very helpful in getting the items back to their rightful place.

“I imagine that perhaps somebody’s conscience has clicked.”

According to Mr Anthony, two bottles of wine which were given to himself and Mr Wiseman have also gone missing. However, these have not been returned to the church.