The panel from the Great Tapestry of Scotland telling the story of Rosslyn Chapel, one of the nation’s most mysterious buildings, is at the centre of its own riddle after vanishing from Kirkcaldy’s art gallery.
Police say it taken between 9:10am and 11:15am on Thursday from the 90-year-old gallery, which reopened two years ago after a £2.5 million revamp.
More than 50,000 people have seen the vast work of art - which was created by more than 1,000 volunteers over the course of three years - since it went on display there in June.
The Great Tapestry of Scotland, unveiled in the Scottish Parliament two years ago, features 160 separate panels, each of which took around 500 hours to create, with more than 300 miles of woollen yarn.
They feature everything from the Ice Age, the Viking invasions and the Battle of Bannockburn to the Act of Union in 1707, the First and Second World Wars, the North Sea oil boom and the creation of Dolly the Sheep.
The work of art - which has been seen by more than 300,000 people to date - set a new world record as the world’s longest tapestry, measuring a mammoth 143 metres.
The tapestry - designed by artist Andrew Crummy - was instigated by the author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency series.
He said: “This is a terrible blow for a project that has brought so much joy to so many people. I appeal to those who have taken this panel to return it.
“Words cannot express how shocked I am that somebody should damage in this way what is widely seen as a great national treasure.”
More than a dozen members of the congregation at Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian, had helped create the panel for the tapestry.
Artist Crummy, who was born in Edinburgh, said: “I’m devastated. I could not believe it when I heard what had happened. Why would anyone want to steal a bit of the Great Tapestry of Scotland?
“My heart goes out to the ladies from the chapel who worked on the panel and put so much love into it. This is like stealing from your own granny.”
Officials at Fife Cultural Trust, which runs the gallery, have issued a public appeal in a bid to have the panel returned safely.
Detective Sergeant Craig Fraser, of Police Scotland, said: “This is a beloved piece of artwork and we are eager to trace the panel as soon as possible so the tapestry can continued to be enjoyed in its entirety.”
The tapestry will eventually be going on permanent display in a purpose-built visitor centre in the Borders. It has toured extensively over the last two years, including at Stirling Castle, Aberdeen Art Gallery, New Lanark and Ayr Town Hall.