Thieves have stolen a painting believed to be the only one by Michelangelo in Belgium, just days before it was due to have its authenticity confirmed by experts. The striking picture, which was being stored at the St Ludgerus church in the small Flemish town of Zele under pastor Jan Van Raemdonck, was taken on Friday last week. The biblical scene of Mary with the Baby Jesus had been languishing in the church for the last 16 years after it was donated by a parishioner. But after noticing it tucked away in a darkened corner of his church, Van Raemdonck decided to give it a more prominent position and even called in specialists from Italy to have it verified as a work of Michelangelo. Van Raemdonck said he suspected it may have been painted by the master after noticing a sketch of a similar scene by Michelangelo in the Duke of Portland’s collection – which was recently exhibited. He believes it could be worth anything up to £89 if it was officially authenticated as a work of Michelangelo. ‘The drawing, which is 100 percent sure of Michelangelo, shows just the same scene. That is why I thought that this too could be the work of Michelangelo, or one of his pupils,’ he said. His Italian experts had been due to come and look at the painting imminently, and Van Raemdonck believes its theft may not be a coincidence. Van Raemdonck said his potential discovery was a secret but added he had told the church council because he wanted approval for extra security measures. The chairman of the council told Het Nieuwsblad that the council had opted to restore the church tower rather than install burglar alarms and denied the painting had ever been discussed. Share this article Share The painting was initially believed to have had a value of around £10,000, but Van Raemdonck believes it could have been worth a lot more if it had been verified. ‘If it is really by Michelangelo, then it would be worth much more than that,’ he told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. The East Flanders public prosecutor’s office said the church was broken into through the sacristy between 5am and 6am on Friday. A witness has described a man of between 17 and 20-years-old, wearing dark clothes and a hood and carrying a backpack. ‘The artwork would be examined in the short term by an Italian specialist to see if it would be by Michelangelo or one of his pupils. That would of course considerably increase the value of the piece,’ it said.