COLLECTION TO REMAIN CLOSED UNTIL LATE DECEMBER – Treasure of Sacred Art closed for maintenance

Marco Carvalho

It first opened to the public four years ago, but not many Macau residents know about it. The Treasure of Sacred Art of Saint Joseph’s Seminary closed its doors at the end of September for maintenance work. The religious art collection, Vítor Gomes Teixeira claims, is not the most important of the kind in Macau. It remains, nevertheless, a unique cluster of sacred art in the context of the Catholic missions to China, the art historian contends.

The Treasure of Sacred Art of Saint Joseph’s Seminary – one of the top-three religious art collections of Macau – provisionally closed its doors in late September and should remain so at least until the end of the year. The Cultural Affairs Bureau – which is responsible for the conservation and supervision of the Treasure – said in a statement that it will submit the collection to maintenance works, including repairing leaks in the ceiling and the walls of the St Joseph’s Seminary and Church.

The Bureau explains that the room that houses the Treasure will be the target of a comprehensive intervention to fight off water infiltrations and other issues. According to the statement, the maintenance work is expected to be completed in late December. The museum will remain closed during the period.

The Treasure of Sacred Art of Saint Joseph’s Seminary first opened to the public on October 8th, 2016. The collection brings together, according to the Cultural Affairs Bureau, “a great number of religious artifacts such as books and documents, oil paintings, icons, liturgical vestments and liturgical vessels.”

The collection, Vítor Gomes Teixeira claims, is not the most important cluster of sacred and religious art in Macau, but it is, nonetheless, a very significant part of a unique set of cultural assets in the context of the history of Catholic Church in China: “It is an important asset, not so much for its artistic beauty and originality, but mainly for its relevance to the history of the Catholic missions in China and, in particular, in Macau,” Mr Teixeira – a university teacher with a PhD in Art History – claims. “It is not a superior collection, but honestly, there is nothing comparable in the Chinese context. Along with the Sacred Art collection lodged in some of the local churches and in the Cathedral – with a special emphasis on the Treasure of Saint Dominic’s Church and the artifacts in the Ruins of Saint Paul’s, which are undoubtedly the best – what we can ascertain is that all these collections are obviously important and unique in a Chinese context,” the visiting professor of the University of Saint Joseph adds.

Professor Teixeira, who lived and worked in Macau for quite a few years in the first half of the decade, claims that the collection is way more important from a religious point of view than from an “aesthetic and stylistic point of view,” even though the Treasure includes some unique, “good quality” pieces: “From the point of view of the collection itself – despite the fact that I am not aware of the updated inventory or the most recent incorporations, which seem to exist – I would emphasize the jewelry, there are pieces in gold, silver and bronze, the liturgical vessels – the adoration and veneration artifacts – that have been used by the Seminary community or displayed in the Church and that include artifacts that have been used for sacramental, processional or internal use of the community,” Vítor Gomes Teixeira highlights. “The collection also incorporates religious paintings, oil paintings for instance, such as that of Saint Augustine of Hippo, doctor of the Church, which can be dated to the 17th century or to the transition to the following century. I would like, however, to outline the sacred statuary, alluding to individual figures – saints or members of the Society of Jesus or others of the kind – that are particularly well preserved. The collection also includes several crucifixes, some with an ebony, good-natured Christ. I do remember as well a few 18th century cult books, relics and reliquaries, as well as two nineteenth-century bells,” the researcher at Portugal’s Catholic University concludes.

Founded in 1728 by Jesuit missionaries, the St Joseph’s Seminary and Church acquired an undeniable importance in the development of the Catholic missions to China. Heir to St. Paul’s College, the Seminar helped to train numerous exceptional Catholic priests and cadres and was an active part in the social development of Macau over three hundred years. The Seminary gave an undeniable contribution in such different areas as culture, education, art or the promotion of charitable practices. The role of Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Vítor Gomes Teixeira claims, wasn’t more relevant to Macau merely because of a series of historical vicissitudes. A handful of political upheavals, the Portuguese researcher says, also contributed to the dilapidation of the religious and cultural assets gathered by the Seminary all over three centuries: “The Museum’s collection is important in the context of sacred art both in Macau and in China, although it is not very different from the collections that can be seen in Saint Dominic’s Church or in the Ruins of Saint Paul’s. One major issue that affects it is due to the erosion that this collection suffered in the 19th century and part of the 20th century, with the removal of some of the works that existed in some of the local Churches, mainly those of Jesuit foundation. A paradigmatic example in Macau is the collection – or what remains of it – of the old Church and Convent of Saint Francis, located next to Macau’s Military Club,” Teixeira considers. “In the Seminary’s case, it suffered, like many of the others, a strong dilapidation after the Jesuits were expelled, 30 years after it was founded. The same happened in 1834, with the anti-clerical and anti-regular crisis (that is, directed against religious orders), in addition to the crisis between the Church and the State after the Portuguese Republic was installed in 1910. The collection was established by those priests who came to Macau to train themselves for the missions in China,” the visiting professor at the University of Saint Joseph told O Clarim.

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