NZ Cathedral restoration a chance to recreate precious lost icon

The whereabouts of a priceless ancient holy icon, brought to New Zealand in the mid-1800s by a French missionary, remains a riddle.

But the New Zealand Herald reports that work has just finished in Wellington on a new icon, modelled on the Byzantine original which dates back before 750AD.

The painting, the Pompallier Madonna, was stolen from a school in Wellington some years ago.

Just as in best-seller The Da Vinci Code, rumours persist of secret Vatican involvement in the intrigue. And as in the book, an ancient artefact is at stake, combined with a clandestine series of events: a precious artefact that had been closely guarded mysteriously vanishes, is sighted shortly afterwards but remains missing now for many decades.

Some New Zealand Catholics believe a covert Papal official spirited the gold and blue painting back to Rome. But others dismiss this as gossip and say the painting is in the hands of a private owner in New Zealand who is unaware of its true value and significance.

When Bishop Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier visited Pope Pius IX in Rome in 1847, he was given the ancient small painting to bring to New Zealand.

That painting became known as the Pompallier Madonna.

The Pope had been given the painting when he was elected in 1846. For more than a century, it remained safe but it disappeared almost half a century ago.

Society of Mary archivist Br Gerard Hogg said that during the late 1960s the painting was hanging in a glass cabinet at St Patrick's College, Wellington.

Soon after the icon vanished, a passerby spotted it in the window of a second-hand shop and called the school.

"So college staff went there immediately, but the shop was closed. When it reopened, the man there said he couldn't remember any such item being for sale," he said.

Cathedral administrator Fr Bernard Kiely dismissed speculation that Church officials took the original back to the Vatican.

Cathedral restoration a chance to recreate precious lost icon (New Zealand Herald 14/11/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in New Zealand | Archdiocese of Wellington

BSA and ‘Popetown´ complaint (Catholic Comnmuniations New Zealand 8/11/05)

15 Nov 2005