A small Christmas miracle at St Alphonse church
(CS) This year, the festive decorations at St Alphonse church in the capital are rather special – they feature figures of a crib hidden away in a cupboard since the Second World War and discovered only a few days before the Christmas.
Father Ed Hone was in charge of setting up the church's crib for the first time this year, after the English-speaking community only recently moved to St Alphonse near Place du Théâtre in the Luxembourg City centre.
When he opened the storage cupboard located in the choir room on December 19 he found much more than he could have ever imagined. “At the back of the cupboard was this pile of old newspapers,” he explained to wort.lu/en. Being of a “curious nature”, Hone decided to take a closer look.
What he found were carefully wrapped packages, with newspapers pinned into place. Unwrapping the packages with assistant Silvia Rossetto, Hone discovered three beautiful crib figures – Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus – as well as two large Art Deco angels.
Safeguarding treasures from the Nazis
“It was only then that we looked at the newspapers,” he recalled, discovering that the fragile papers dated back to December 1939 – almost 74 years ago to the day the figures were discovered by Hone. “You could see that they hadn't been unwrapped since,” Hone added.
In late 1939 Luxembourg was preparing for a German invasion, which came only a few months later in May 1940, and Luxembourgers were desperately trying to hide their most precious possessions – the St Alphonse church included.
And it is a good thing that they did, added Hone, explaining that the adjoining monastery was occupied by German troops, who used the church for mass, but turned a sacristy corridor into a latrine and used another part of the building as their wash room.
While most of the relics of that time were destroyed after the war, the cupboards of St Alphonse still hold remnants of the past, said Hone, showing us a cup with a Swastika seal stamped onto its bottom.
The search is on
The story behind the crib figures meanwhile remains a mystery. The hands of the infant Jesus, for example, are missing, but Hone assumes that the figure was meant to hold hands with Mary and Joseph, who each hold a hand outstretched.
The origin of the carved wooden figures, whose colourful paint is in pristine condition, is also not known, nor is their age. However, Hone hopes that their story can be discovered, with a search through the church's ledgers and archives, but also the help of the public.
The chaplain also hopes that he will be able to discover the rest of the crib figures somewhere in the church's labyrinthine corridors and cupboards. Noticeably missing from the Nativity scene are the three wise men, a shepherd and the traditional animals, such as a donkey, an ox or a few sheep.
For now though, the five re-discovered figures are on display at St Alphonse church, and Hone is looking to involve a conservationist to ensure that the crib will remain in good condition for generations to come.