In Lyon, a new look at missionary collections

After The treasures of Émile Guimet then The Chamber of Wonders devoted to cabinets of curiosities, the Musée des Confluences continues to explore the roots of its collections. His exhibition To the end of the world, missionary gazes, this time takes us to the discovery of a hundred pieces chosen from nearly 2,300 deposited in 1979 by the Work for the Propagation of Faith, at the time at the Natural History Museum in Lyon.

Coming from Africa, Asia or Oceania, these ritual or customary objects were sent by religious who traveled the world in the hope of evangelizing in the 19th century.e century and exhibited by the Pontifical Mission Societies which financed their trip. The stories that accompany them bear witness to the preoccupations of these ecclesiastics in the face of these little-known civilizations.

Various approaches

Here, “The story is told from the dominant point of view”, recalls Marianne Rigaud-Roy, curator of the exhibition. From the start of the journey, a video thus places this collection in its historical context. How did this superb Japanese Buddhist altar end up in France? Some documents evoke the thanks of converted families, others suggest “commissions” to celebrate the victory over paganism. All these objects will ultimately be used to promote missions from France. “We want to have all your gods in our museum first, weapons, tools, household utensils; in short, nothing should be missing ”, wrote Father Augustin Planque, co-founder of the Society of African Missions, in 1861.

The portraits of about thirty of these religious, to read or listen, however, allow to discover the variety of their approaches. While some experience real cultural shocks, others immerse themselves in these distant societies, such as Jean-Baptiste Pompallier who ends up being considered one of the great Maori chiefs: he will bring back the neck rest of the King of Wallis. The collections also sometimes testify to an anthropological interest: for example, there are rich sets of musical instruments accompanied by very precise documentation on their use and their history, or drawings and stories such as those of the Spiritan Alexandre Leroy, recording the flora and fauna of East Africa, so many valuable elements for the human sciences.

The exhibition offers, finally, the opportunity to highlight certain roles invisible at the time of the missions, foremost among them that of women like the Lyonnaise Pauline Jaricot, who impelled the creation of the Work of the Propagation of the faith in 1822, or of nuns like Marie-Françoise Perroton, the first woman to leave alone in Oceania and at the origin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary.

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