Freud's ashes

The entrance to Golders Green Crematorium in North London, where burglars attempted to steal a 2,300-year-old urn containing the ashes of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and his wife and badly damaged the priceless vase in the New Year's Day break-in. (John Stillwell / Associated Press / January 15, 2014)

Thieves who attempted to steal a priceless Greek urn containing the cremated remains of Sigmund Freud from its resting place in London failed to make off with the ashes but badly damaged the 2,300-year-old receptacle, Scotland Yard said Wednesday.

The botched break-in occurred on New Year's Day at a crypt preserving and displaying the remains of artists, intellectuals and political leaders who span the social spectrum, from wartime capitulator Neville Chamberlain to doomed songstress Amy Winehouse.

"This was a despicable act by a callous thief," Detective Constable Daniel Chandler of the Metropolitan Police said.

The urn, which was on a plinth in the Golders Green Crematorium in North London, contained the ashes of the father of psychoanalysis and his wife, Martha, police said. 

The urn was festooned with images of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, and had been given to Freud by his friend and fellow psychoanalyst Princess Marie Bonaparte, the online science journal Phys.org said in its article about the break-in.

Bonaparte, a great-grandniece of Napoleon, had helped the Freud family escape Nazi-annexed Austria in 1938 to take refuge in London during World War II. Freud died in exile a year later at 83, and his wife's remains were added to the urn after her death at 90 in 1951, the Guardian reported.

"It's a sad, sad thing," Dawn Kemp, director of the Freud museum house in Hamstead, told the newspaper. "It's very much a matter for the family, but Freud is very close to our hearts here, and we are deeply saddened at the news, whatever the motive was."  

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