In an effort to photograph and document the entire collection of The Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology has discovered a gem suspected to be one of Queensland's most valuable pieces of mediaeval sculpture.
The 500-year-old carved limestone frieze, detailing the entombment of Christ, has been in a store room since it was given to the museum in 1992.
“It was wrapped in an old mattress. I couldn’t believe my eyes (when we unwrapped it),” senior curator Michael Strong says.
The only hint of what it was, was a black and white photograph that made it look as if it were in bad shape and not particularly interesting.
The Abbey museum team has been photographing the museum 's entire collection and felt it was time to unpack the item earlier this year for the first time.
“It’s a very, very important piece indeed.”
The frieze was part of Father John Ward’s collection of antiquities amassed from 1934-1940 and displayed at Abbey Folk Park, which closed in 1940 during WWII.
Abbey Folk Park never re-opened and pieces were sold off. The park was then purchased by a wealthy German whose daughter was married to film director Mike Figgis Turner.
Ultimately, Figgis Turner wanted the park turned into a film studio, with his prior knowledge of the other items from the John Ward collection making their way to Caboolture’s Abbey Museum, he arranged for this piece to also be sent there.
The piece is most likely from France or Belgium, damaged and separated from the whole sculpture during WWI and taken to Britain. “There’s no doubt it was part of a bigger piece,” Michael says.
He says that it would have been part of a rood screen, separating the nave from a mediaeval church's chancel, covered in elaborate carvings of Christ's life.
Michael hopes it will be on permanent display and it may even be loaned to other museums from time to time.
Visitors to the museum have already been seen sitting and gazing at it in deep reflection, something Michael is confident will happen more often.
“I think it’s something that will become a centre of modern pilgrimage. I think people will come to see it,” he says.
Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology
What: Displays spanning 500,000 years from the prehistoric age through to the end of the 19th century
Where: The Abbey Place, Caboolture.