The supermarket chain Lidl has been accused of airbrushing out crosses from a historic church in Italy so as not to offend its non-Christian customers.
The case follows a similar controversy last month involving packaging for a range of Greek food in which the crosses on top of a blue-domed church on the Greek island of Santorini were removedby the German-owned chain.
The latest row involves the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate in the picturesque village of Dolceacqua in the northwestern region of Liguria.
The village, which boasts an ancient stone bridge and a medieval castle, was painted by the French artist Claude Monet in the 1880s.
An image of the church, with the crosses removed from its façade and its bell tower, was used for promotional purposes by a Lidl branch in the nearby town of Camporosso, to the anger of locals.
The crosses were apparently removed so as not to offend the sensibility of the town’s Muslim immigrants.
Fulvio Gazzola, the mayor of Dolceacqua, has made a formal complaint to Lidl, saying they have tampered with one of the best-known images of the village.
He said he had asked the chain to restore the crosses in the black and white photograph but that nothing had been done.
“You need to show photos of Dolceacqua which correspond to reality. If you don’t want to show crosses, then use an image of our castle,” the mayor said.
“Lidl said that removing religious symbols is part of an Italian and European publicity strategy. They are free to do what they want but they shouldn’t ruin photos. This is harmful to the image of our village and to our Christian traditions.”
The mayor said he was considering taking legal action against the company.
In a statement sent to The Telegraph, Lidl apologised for using the image of the church devoid of its crosses and offered an apology “to our customers and to the inhabitants of Dolceacqua.”
The company said the image would be removed “immediately”. It had been part of a marketing campaign to display evocative images of some of Italy’s most picturesque villages.
Lidl claimed that the crosses had already been removed from the church when the image was obtained from a photographic database.
When the airbrushing of the crosses from the photograph of the church on Santorini emerged last month, customers in the UK and elsewhere in Europe expressed anger and dismay.
The church featured on a range of Greek-themed products including bread sticks, olive oil, spices and baklava pastries.
In a statement, Lidl said: “We avoid the use of religious symbols on our packaging to maintain neutrality in all religions. If it has been perceived differently, we apologise to those who may have been shocked.”
After a rapid expansion, Lidl is now one of Europe’s biggest retailers, with more than 10,000 stories in 27 countries.