Updated: September 26, 2021 12:12:31 am
IN 2012, a statue of St Paul, roughly 400-years-old, reached the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum located in the St Pius Seminary, Goregaon. The saint’s toenails were painted, his robe polka-dotted and oil colours had been used in keeping with the times.
With careful restoration, layers of paint were stripped back to reveal the original artistry — a saint clad in saffron, holding a swallowtail flag like that of the Marathas, and placed on a pedestal of lotus petals.
He is very much St Paul — the sword and staff are closely associated with his story — but he is also very much Indian.
The Indo-Portuguese statue was donated by St Anthony’s Church in Malwani and is part of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum’s growing collection. The museum was inaugurated in 2011 as the city’s first institution solely dedicated to preserving Christian heritage with a focus on art and artefacts.
This month, the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum completes a decade, with more than 3,000 objects under its care. As part of its anniversary, it has published a coffee table book, which was released by Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, on Saturday.
The book doubles up as a catalogue of 110 objects from the collection, including the statue of St Paul. With several photographs and detailed explanations of each object, the book offers a closer understanding of the material culture of the Catholic Church as seen in this region.
Fr Warner D’Souza, director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, said that the structure of the book is based on the materials of the artefacts and their use in liturgical celebrations. Sacred vessels, images of Christ and ceremonial accessories are some of the ten sections here.
The book is priced at Rs 2,000 and can be purchased from Fr D’Souza.
If readers are interested in the history of the Catholic Church, Christian art or even Mumbai’s heritage, the book has a lot to offer, especially during a pandemic when visiting art institutions has been difficult. The book functions like a mini-tour of the museum therefore.
It also makes certain objects, otherwise used only by the clergy, more accessible to the general public. For example, a monstrance is a sacred vessel used to display and carry the Eucharistic host. The book features a gold-plated monstrance, at least 170 years old, from Our Lady of Glory Church, Byculla.
Joynel Fernandes, assistant director of the museum, said, “While the art was often European, their grammar was translated to more localised forms.”
Like St Paul’s statue, other artefacts draw from the region, such as cashew fruits that adorn a retable (an elaborate structure behind the altar) from the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Manori, or a glass bindi on a statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception from St Andrew’s Church, Bandra.
There is no doubt that the Catholic Church world over has a sizeable collection of art and crafts, making some of its centres tourist attractions as much as they are pilgrimage sites.
The book, like the museum, rests in the space between history and faith, therefore. Much like the statue of St Paul, many of the artefacts are part of everyday faith.
Fr D’Souza said, “If it’s just a museum, then you have relegated something that was used in the worship of God to a cupboard or a showcase, and then you look at it very objectively for its beauty. But these objects are not merely beautiful or precious. They are objects of faith. A chalice will always be used as a chalice and not as a drinking cup.”
The museum’s collection was the outcome of a committee that was set up a few years prior, called the Archdiocesan Heritage Committee (now called the Committee for the Preservation and Promotion of the Artistic and Historical Patrimony of the Church), which was entrusted with the goal of making clergy and laity more aware of the Catholic Church’s heritage.
“This is not just a museum but a living museum because many of these artefacts are also given to parishes or churches as and when they are deemed fit,” he added.
Other highlights in the book are processional banners that were once used by parishioners. One such banner from the 19th century, made of wood and silk with zardozi work, was used by a tailoring guild at the St Francis Xavier’s Church, Dabul. Processions, and therefore banners like these, are now rare to see in the city.
Likewise, the book also documents other objects that have fallen into disuse but preserved at the museum, such as a peristerium, a dove-shaped vessel that was a common feature in churches in India.
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