1 July 2010

'Loyal to Peter' - The Newman Society's lost statue of Saint Peter

The Newman Society gave a bronze statue of St. Peter to St. Aloysius’ church in 1893. The gift commemorated the departure of the much loved Fr. Walter Strappini SJ, who had served as Rector of the parish for eleven years and had been a formative influence in those early years of the society’s history.

The statue was a scaled replica of the famous statue of St. Peter which stands in the Vatican Basilica and is attributed to the thirteenth century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. The original model for the sculpture can be seen in the Basilica’s crypt, where there can be found a classical sculpture of a seated philosopher which has been transformed into a christianised image of the Prince of the Apostles teaching from his cathedra.

On Ss Peter and Paul’s day the bronze statue is vested with a cope, Episcopal ring, and Papal tiara. A special indulgence can be obtained by kissing its foot, which has been worn down to a smooth surface by the veneration of pilgrims over the centuries. The gesture has a two-fold meaning: it is an act of veneration of St. Peter and - as the traditional gesture of obeisance upon meeting a Pope - is also an expression of loyalty to the person of the Holy Father as successor of 'the Fisherman' Peter.

In St. Aloysius’ parish records there survives a papal grant giving this same indulgence to the Newman Society’s statue and Fr. Martindale’s history of the parish records that it was much venerated by people entering and leaving the church.

The statue was removed from the church and decapitated (!) several decades ago. The head was rescued by a parishioner and has recently been returned to the parish.  It can now be seen in the Oratory House, where it serves as a sad reminder of the reprehensible destruction of so much of our Catholic patrimony falsly carried out in the name of the Second Vatican Council (see below).

The above photograph has recently come to light. The astute observer will notice that the marbled base of the sculpture is now used as a plinth for St. Joseph’s statue in the church.

The Fathers of Vatican II on sacred art:
Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest expressions of human genious. This judgment applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. By their very nature both of the latter are related to God’s boundless beauty …

The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be firmly maintained …

Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or allowed to deteriorate; for they are ornaments of the house of God.

(Vatican II, S.C., 122, 125, 126)

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