A jewel-studded, silver chalice was stored in a safe at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation on East University Parkway, kept out of view so no one would be tempted to steal it.
But the strategy failed.
In the course of telling the police about an office break-in that occurred over the weekend, church officials checked the safe on Monday and discovered the chalice had disappeared.
The cup was silver and adorned with diamonds, topaz and amethysts, according to a police report.
"We don't use these items for precisely this reason," said the Very Rev. Van H. Gardner, dean of the cathedral, referring to the risk of theft. "It's something that's not been used for years."
He said the chalice was last accounted for in February.
Mr. Gardner said yesterday that he could not put a value on the chalice but that cathedral staffers were examining records to learn its history, when it was given, by whom, and how much it might be worth.
He was reluctant to say more about the theft of the chalice, except that many churches have such treasures that they no longer use but are bound to safeguard. A church doesn't sell these valuables, Mr. Gardner said, because they are usually gifts presented to the church and consecrated for liturgical use.
The loss of the chalice may be unrelated to the break-in last weekend, Mr. Gardner said, in which a fax machine and other office equipment were taken from adjoining offices. The cathedral and the Episcopal Church's Maryland diocesan headquarters are at East University Parkway and North Charles Street.
The safe may not have been locked properly, said Officer John Boyd of the Northern District.
Churches are burglarized from time to time, but mostly for office machines and cash in their charity boxes, he said.