“You must keep in mind that hundreds of men had walked those seminary halls before us: men who had gone on to become priests and missionaries. They traveled the world to enlighten the masses, saving souls and no doubt having a jolly good time while abroad. When they returned, they brought back cultural items—parting gifts from local people or simply objects picked up along the way. Over time, the items were amassed in our school’s basement, serving as an in-house museum. Brothers would tour the collection, studying the relics to glimpse the different heathen cultures and gawk at their ritualistic items. The collection was meant to broaden our knowledge and intrigue us to follow in the footsteps of our alumni.” He paused in his telling as he recalled the many men who had traversed the seminary halls across time. “It was all well and good until 1970 when UNESCO developed an agreement against the transfer of ownership of cultural properties, strongly opposing the import and export of cultural antiquities.”
-- Excerpt from The Sheltering Stones
You are no doubt thinking that this is a fantastical story. Well, it’s actually 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 of rubble. The oddities are still guests in my home (see the pics below for some examples). Pre-Columbian pieces of architecture, a cup with a gruesome face, Roman coins, a scrimshaw tusk, cuneiforms, a figurine head of a bird, a chainmail purse, and a sculpted bust of a Nubian woman remain on display in the living room curio cabinet. 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. They are portals to the past that breathe life back 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.
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