“Keep in mind that hundreds attended our seminary a century before we arrived there. They became missionaries, traveling the world, enlightening the masses, and no doubt having a jolly good time abroad. They brought back curious objects—gifts from tribesmen, items used in odd religious rituals, and unique cultural trappings they picked up along the way. These oddities were amassed in the seminary’s basement, serving as a museum. This all happened well before television exposed us to the indigenous people of other continents. As young seminarians, we toured the collected relics to glimpse heathen cultures and gawk at their ritualistic tokens. Such dated collections were common teaching tools in seminaries across Europe and the U.S. The display broadened our knowledge and challenged us to follow in the footsteps of our alumni.”
Rosemont recalled the many good men who traversed the seminary halls over time. “Inspector, it was all well and good until 1970 when the United Nations developed an agreement against the trade of cultural properties. You see, people were losing their history to tourists and invading military forces. They strongly opposed the taking of their homeland antiquities.”
“I studied that act in college,” Remy said. “The multi-national agreement prevented looting during military coups and slowed the international trade of stolen relics. It won staunch support. Many countries passed even stricter laws to protect their unique heritage.”
Rosemont leaned forward; his voice cut with excitement. “Exactly. But back then, it meant priests and seminarians sat on top of illicit property. A vast collection of relics taken from multiple countries during colonial imperialism; historical tokens of unique religions and indigenous cultures. Of course, the missionaries had not intentionally stolen anything. Up until the early 1900s, everyone returned from abroad with such relics as souvenirs. But imagine how it appeared in the culturally awakened 1970s. That populace perceived it quite differently: Thou shalt not steal. And you know how that goes—people’s perceptions become their realities. Bear in mind that in the 1970s, people began questioning priests’ activities. What the Church couldn’t explain, it buried. Rather than risk embarrassment or arrest for hording cultural treasures, holy men nipped down to their collections and emptied the museums into skips in the dead of night.”
Excerpt from The Sheltering Stones
You are no doubt thinking: What a fantastical story. Well, it’s true. My husband was one of those dumpster-diving seminarians back in the 1970s. He and several classmates rescued a broad range of cultural antiquities, sparing them from a landfill rubble. The oddities are still guests in my home. Pre-Columbian pieces of architecture, a cup with a gruesome face, Roman coins, a scrimshaw tusk, cuneiforms, a figurine head of a bird, chainmail purse, and a tiny, sculpted bust of a Nubian woman are all on display. These cultural antiquities resonate with history. Each object’s uniqueness draws your attention and then forces you into quiet contemplation of all that has transpired before you. The oddities are portals to the past that breathe life into marginalized or extinct cultures and somehow still add magic and meaning to our lives. We are honored to be the temporary custodians of these touchstones; torn between our desire to protect and preserve the antiquities or repatriate them. It’s not an easy decision.
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.