Heavenly finds in the most unlikely places

One man has been on a mission to find and save precious historical items from the currently closed Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

In the dim light of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd's sacristy - the room where items used for church services are kept - Mr Jevon Liew was examining a brass crucifix and a matching pair of candlesticks.

That morning in 2013, he noticed that they bore identical French inscriptions around their bases.

Translated, the words proclaimed a significant milestone in the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore: They were gifts from France to the cathedral in 1897, the year of its official consecration.

Mr Liew, 32, who leads a group of men who help the priests during services, has since unearthed many treasures from the nooks and corners of the 169-year-old building in Queen Street.

Some, like an elaborately filigreed chalice belonging to the Right Reverend Edouard Gasnier - the first bishop of the Diocese of Malacca when it was revived in 1888 - were in use until the cathedral was closed for restoration in 2013.

Others, like the amethyst pontifical ring of Archbishop Michel Olcomendy, the first archbishop of Singapore, remained unidentified until the discovery of a 1951 Straits Times photograph that showed the late archbishop wearing the large, purple stone on his gloved hand.

RICH HISTORY

Imagine the thousands of people over the last 169 years who may have said a silent prayer in front of those vintage statues .

MR JEVON LIEW, who has been helping to discover historical treasures from all corners of the Good Shepherd Cathedral as it undergoes restoration.

"Items were found in the most unlikely of corners, waiting to be discovered," said Mr Liew, who has for several years combed the recesses of the cathedral for items worth keeping. Some were on a high shelf while a few were hidden under robes used by the priests. The service book used by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1986 was found inside a filing cabinet in a dusty storeroom.

Monsignor Philip Heng, 61, the current rector of the cathedral, feels each item has a unique story.

He said: "Historical artefacts such as these immortalise a particular period of the Church's rich heritage through the unique artistic expressions of master craftsmen."

He added that there are plans to exhibit some of the items in a new heritage gallery on the cathedral grounds.

The items will be professionally maintained so that they are preserved for posterity.

For Mr Liew, an urban planner, these treasures are a physical link to past generations of Catholics.

He said: "Imagine the thousands of people over the last 169 years who may have said a silent prayer in front of those vintage statues .

"Imagine Pope Saint John Paul II who, in 1986, flipped through the pages of his white service book which is now in our collection. We have a duty to protect and preserve these for future generations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Heavenly finds in the most unlikely places'. Print Edition | Subscribe