5 April 2024

2024 exhibition : the Terra Sancta Museum unites Compostela and Jerusalem


It was at the Cidade da Cultura, the high spot of Galician culture, that “Tesouros reais. Obras mestras do Terra Sancta Museum” was inaugurated on 21st March. The exhibition, to which entry is free of charge, presents 108 pieces from Jerusalem, Lisbon and various museums in Galicia. All the guided tours proposed are now reserved ! Let’s have a look back at this Spanish premiere, the prospects it opens up and the bonds it tightens.

The Terra Sancta Museum humbly followed in the footsteps of generations of Galician missionary friars, “more than 300 since 1862, including the Blessed Fr. Juan Jacobo Fernández, martyred in Damascus,” Fr. Juan Manuel Buján, the current Provincial of Santiago de Compostela and local curator of the exhibition which has just opened.


It was in 1835 that the Spanish friars found refuge in the Holy Land, after the suppression of the male religious orders and, under the pressure of Isabella II of Spain expressing, by royal decree, her desire to open a training house for missionaries for the Holy Land. “ The government adopted the measures to preserve the convents and colleges of the Holy Places of Jerusalem and their dependences. The Obra Pía thus took possession of the convent of Priego (Cuenca), and became a College of Missions for the Holy Land with the obligation for the friars who were there to “be ready to go to Tangiers or Palestine.” The College of Priego was followed by those of Santiago de Compostela and Chipiona.

Intermediaries between two worlds, these Spanish friars were real promoters of the Holy Land. “ Fr. Juan Rodríguez de Legísima founded the Spanish Society of the Friends of the Holy land and organized a large exhibition in 1954 in Madrid. For thirty-nine years, he collected and carefully looked after works which allowed the creation, in 1993 of the Museo de Terra Santa which is in our Franciscan convent,” Fr. Juan Manuel Buján continued.


Compostela-Jerusalem. This exhibition also presents a common destiny of pilgrimage cities. After the success of the Lisbon exhibition, admired by more than 50,000 visitors, Fra Stéphane Milovitch, Director of the Department of the Cultural Heritage of the Custody of the Holy Land, explained : “each exhibition is different, the discourse changes and is enriched according to the place, the visitors, the local curators who are associated and the collections present locally. In our future museum, we will have a whole section consecrated to the missions of the Franciscans in the Holy Land and in particular the welcome of the pilgrims of the Universal Church. There are some interesting parallels.”

© Cidade da Cultura de Galicia

Fra Stéphane came with a part of the team of the project and members of the Scientific Committee. For example, Raphaëlle Ziadé, Head of the Byzantine Department of the Petit Palais (Paris) and a specialist in the artistic heritage of the Christian communities of the Orient, who was appointed to set up the section on Oriental Christian art. “This exhibition is an opportunity to enrich our knowledge. The works in mother-of-pearl which are on display – from the Museo de Terra Santa – represent a part of the collections linked to the Custody which we do not know. We are now going to be able to compare the works, find resemblances and understand how they came to the Iberian Peninsula,” said the expert who has already begun her investigation.


The “great day” has arrived at the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia. All the energies have been mobilized for three months, without a break. “Building an exhibition in such a short time is an amazing feat. I am impressed by the professionalism and the synamism of the teams I have met,” Béatrix Saule, President of the Scientific Committee, slipped in admiringly. Fr. Stéphane is full of gratitude for the architects and the engineers for the safety of the venue who took the time to discuss crucial matters.

“These contacts are precious, especially for a museum like ours which is still in construction. We are taking note of all the advice and feedback of experience. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. António Filipe Pimentel, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, for his support, which allowed Rui Xavier and André Afonso to ensure the shipment, the status reports and the installation of our works which they knew well because they had restored and handled them in Lisbon. This museum is a history of passionate men and women; we, the Franciscans, are very grateful for all their help and sharing of knowledge.”


It is now 6 p.m.: Alfonso Rueda Valenzuela, President of the Xunta de Galicia – the autonomous government of Galicia – has arrived. He greets in turn Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, who has come to support the project of the Terra Sancta Museum “but also in honour of this strong bond between Galicia and the Holy Land,”, then Mons. Bernardito Cleopas, the Apostolic Nuncio for Spain, Mons. Francisco José Prieto Fernández, Archbishop of Compostela and Mons. Alfonso Carrasco Rouco, bishop of Lugo as well as the many Franciscans who have come for the event.

© Cidade da Cultura de Galicia

After visiting the exhibition with the curators – Jacques Charles-Gaffiot, member of the Scientific Committee of the Terra Sancta Museum, Esperanza Gigirey Liste, director of the Museum of Pilgrimages and of Santiago and lastly, Fr. Juan Manuel Buján, Provincial Minister – all the guests gathered to listen to the speeches. The Custos took the floor and, after having congratulated all the players of the project, expressed his joy at seeing this “historical relationship between our two provinces” revived. He continued : “These exhibitions around the world are essential, they allow people to get to know the Holy Land, its history and its cultural, as well as religious and spiritual, value.”

© Cidade da Cultura de Galicia

As the Church has just celebrated Easter, Compostela takes on an air of Jerusalem and we almost want to tell the many Spanish pilgrims who cannot travel to the Holy Land that Jerusalem has come to them.

Thanks to Christian Media Center for this video

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