Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Close Encounters with a Triregnum

The Asian Civilizations Musuem in Singapore has been hosting an exhibit of artifacts from the Vatican Museums, entitled "Journey of Faith". Intrigued by Michael Dunstan Feng's reaction and report on the exhibition and bearing in mind that my last trip to Rome did not afford me the time to stand in line and visit the Vatican Musuems, I decided to take this opportunity. After all, it's only the second ever time that the Vatican Museums have allowed an exhibition in Asia. I believe the first one was in the Philippines.

Braving the rain, I made my way yesterday afternoon to the Museum and was pleased to see that the exhibition was part of a larger celebration of church art which included a festival of sacred music. Sadly, I shall not be in Singapore for that...

Once inside, I made my way to the gallery and immediately encountered a group of school girls from a major convent school in Singapore being shown around the exhibits by a very loud teacher. It seems I had chosen a day popular with the local schools as there were quite a few other school groups milling around; there was no quiet hush of the musuem here!

Nevertheless, I did not allow this to spoil my visit. Indeed, I was rather glad to see quite so many teenagers being introduced to church art and history and the guides were reasonably well-informed and accurate... or at least the parts I overheard were! The theme of pilgrimage which was given to the exhibition seemed rather apt, as we were brought to Rome, through the exhibits. There were quite a few paintings, icons and sculptures and statues of Ss Peter and Paul and one saw sketches of the tomb of St Peter and the old and new basilicas which were built over that sacred site. As such, I could stand before these images, relics of the True Cross and other relics of the saints, and pray - a pilgrim indeed.

The idea of pilgrimage was carried through in the section on Jubilees which included bricks used to seal the Holy Doors and a trowel and hammer used by the Pontiff. I was interested in the fact that Pope Paul VI ceased the walling up of the Holy Doors and instead the doors are locked. Some may well bemoan the cessation of the older custom but I feel there is greater symbolism in the keys which the Successor of Peter wields...

There was another journey of faith being traced in the exhibition - that of the evangelization of the peoples of Asia. The exhibit actually began with frescos and sarcophagi lids dating to the Roman era and what was clearly seen was the level of inculturation in early Christian art. The exhibit then closed with inculturated Christian artifacts from South East Asia, including a fascinating house altar erected by the Peranakans (Straits Malays) and a Vietnamese depiction of the Last Judgment. Two paintings of St Francis Xavier and smaller pictures of missionaries to Singapore represented their mission to bring the Gospel to Asia. The theme of inculturation in the Christian arts is one close to my heart and it was certainly interesting to see the artifacts and items used to aid the preaching of the missionaries to the peoples of this region.

And tucked away in a section of the gallery was an exhibit of the former material glories of the papacy - golden vestments, a papal throne used by Pio Nono, a pair of huge gold and silver keys given to Pope Bl Pius IX for his tenth anniversary as Pontiff, Eucharistic vessels and missals and the elusive papal tiara! Incidentally, the one on display was first used by Pope Blessed Pius IX and later by Pope Blessed John XXIII (shown above with the fanon). I had a close look at this splendid symbol of papal authority, which Pope Benedict XVI has now even banished from his official coat of arms. I suppose, it now truly belongs in a museum...

But not all of the items I saw on display are museum pieces. Many can still be used for worship and for the greater glory of God... In fact, one of my misgivings about (some) museum exhibitions of church art and history is that it can make Christianity seem like a thing of the past, pious myths expressed in song and art, like Greek legends or the 'Ramayana'. However, I don't think that was the case here because the exhibition clearly showed the links of the ancient faith, from its roots in the Faith of the apostles Peter and Paul and the Church in Rome, to the Church in Singapore and Asia, born of St Francis Xavier's zeal. Moreover, the exhibit ended with a lovely portrait of Pope John Paul the Great, painted in 2000 by Natalia Tsarkova(right). Anyone contemplating the face of that Servant of God, would surely know and recall the vibrancy of the Faith and the Church two millenia after the life of Christ, for whose glory all this art and these artifacts were produced.


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