Photo: Catholic Artiifact in Cuba
The Vatican has loaned to Cuba “as a great exception” and for one year an artifact considered the most ancient example of indigenous Christian art in the New World, having once belonged to the chaplain of Christopher Columbus.
The piece is a lectern for Mass used by Columbus’ chaplain on the explorer’s second voyage to America, presumably made by Indians in eastern Cuba and belonging to the collection of the Vatican’s Missionary Ethnological Museum, Cuban official media said Friday.
The loan was authorized as “a great exception” by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, following a request made by Havana historian Eusebio Leal to the director of Vatican Museums.
Beginning Feb. 5, the piece will be on show all year at the Museum of the City of Havana.
The wooden lectern, carved in the shape of a seashell with fishbone and tortoiseshell inlays, was donated to the Vatican in 1935 by a Cuban friar.
The daily Granma shows fragments of the document drawn up when the donation was made, according to which the lectern belonged to Fray Bartolome de las Heras, Columbus’ chaplain who settled in Cuba to convert the Indian tribes.
And so the lectern was passed from one generation to the next in Cuba until it came into the hands of the friar who donated it to the Vatican.
Archaeological evidence shows that before 1510 certain groups of Taino Indians sought refuge in the current region of the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, and “it is highly probable that Columbus’ lectern was made there” with local materials.
The exhibition of the piece in Cuba will coincide with Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the country next March 26-28, after his visit to Mexico.