Good lord!

After five years of hunting and restoring, Mumbai's only museum of Christian art is now open

Right at the entrance of the recently-inaugurated Archdiocesan Heritage Museum at St Pius' seminary in Goregaon, stands a wooden sculpture of Christ's head inside a glass casing.

The head of a wooden sculpture of Christ stands away from the rest of
the body.

Placed atop a wooden stick, this polychrome sculpture traps your gaze -- the eyes are shut, his hair parted. It dates back to 1600 AD. Take a few steps to the left, and awe turns to regret. From the left side of the beard downward, pieces of the head are chipped, and the entire chin, missing.

Dating back to 1600, it was restored after being destroyed in a fire that
ominously occurred during a Good Friday.

Inside the museum stands the rest  of the structure. Broken in three bits, two hands and the rest of the body, the life size structure is held together with the help of nails. Half of the chest is missing, so are the neck and shoulders.

A bishop's chair dating back to 1620. Furniture dating back to the period
reportedly had legs that ended in paws.
Pics/ Ashish Rane

But to Father Warren D'Souza the piece is beautiful. Part of the Catholic Church Committee On Heritage, D'Souza has, for the last five years worked to recover historical pieces of Christian art from across Mumbai and restore them in a bid to put together the museum.

Often visitors to places like the St Andrew's Church (Bandra), forget how
historically important these structures are. The church is older than Agra's
Taj Mahal. How many view landmarks in Christian history from this
perspective? --
Father Warren D'Souza beside the wall that traces the
origin and the evolution of the Christian faith in Mumbai.

The Christ sculpture was destroyed many years ago in a fire that ominously occurred on a Good Friday. "It could have been considered omen-like, and when we found it, it was in a miserable condition. It was cracked and lying in bits, much of the body, charred. Thankfully, we were able to restore it," he says.

All the pieces that stand in the museum not bigger than 2,000 square metres, try to trace the evolution of Christianity in Mumbai. There are 200 pieces displayed. The rest are stored in attics, waiting to find display space.

The collection includes ancient altars that were almost ruined after they were oil- painted, ancient robes worn by bishops and visiting Popes, figurines of Christ and chalices made of silver, among others.

A large section of a wall has been dedicated to old correspondences between church officials. One such exchange is between a bishop and a church official in Utan, a correspondence that stretched over eight letters from the bishop (January to April). The bishop apparently, wanted to visit the church in Utan but was worried about the high tide in the sea and sent messages seeking information on the same.

Another wall has been dedicated to a timeline, not just of Christianity in Mumbai, but of events occurring in India and the world. According to D'Souza, "It shows how long Christianity has pervaded Mumbai. Many believe that the Portuguese introduced the religion here, but as this wall shows, in 600 AD, there was a Persian bishop in Kalyan who was preaching the faith."

The year 1613 is marked prominently on the timeline -- the year St Andrew's Church in Bandra was established. Pointing to a picture of the Taj Mahal and the year it was founded (1653), D'Souza says, "Often visitors to places like the St Andrew's Church forget how historically important these structures are. The church is older than Agra's Taj Mahal. How many view landmarks in Christian history in this light?"

Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, St Pius Seminary, Aarey Road, Goregaon (E). The museum is open for viewing only on request by groups like those from other churches or educational institutions.

Call: 28741217

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