None of the church’s valuable items were taken during the break-in, but a stained glass window was smashed using a vase from the graveyard and Bibles and hymn books were burned.
Rev Goronwy Evans, minister at the church for 46 years, believes that they burned the holy books in an “abysmal” attempt to set the church on fire.
“In this day and age break-ins are a part of life, but it was shocking to see what they had done,” he said.
The scene was discovered by a woman who was bringing flowers to her mother’s grave in the churchyard at Brondeifi Unitarian Chapel, in Lampeter, Ceredigion, south west Wales.
It has been estimated that the intruders caused £1,000 worth of damage.
Lampeter county councillor Hag Harris said: “It’s extremely worrying for everybody. In different circumstances the chapel could have been lost. It is an important centre and an historic building in this community.”
The vandals got into the building on St David’s Day by smashing a leaded stained glass window with a vase taken from one of the graves in the churchyard. They then gained access to the rest of the Chapel through the boiler room.
Once inside, the vandals made their way to the minister’s vestry where they set fire to a table, bookshelves and cupboards containing personal items, hymn books and bibles.
An organ, currently in the process of being renovated with funds from the church’s congregation, escaped from the incident unscathed.
Police have been gathering evidence from the scene, including footprints. Investigations are continuing.
Rev Evans said: “It was such a shock. When I got there on Saturday afternoon I just looked around and thought ‘What have they been doing?’ They didn’t take anything, so it could have been worse, but it doesn’t make it any better.
“Trying to set the place on fire was abysmal,” Rev Evans added. “It was more through luck than judgment that we still have a church and not a shell. We all just hope it won’t happen again.”