Photo of metal plate from Father Crespi’s collection.

On the trail of the Father Crespi Collection: A Sad Discovery – Part II

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[Read Part I]

“There is nothing of Padre Crespi’s collection left in our building!” ‘Brother Gatekeeper’ assures us when we arrive at the main portal of the Salesian monastery of Cuenca in Ecuador. “No metal tablets?” I ask. The monk does not conceal how awkward it is for him to answer such questions. I understand. He would often have been asked the same thing. Nevertheless, I keep enquiring: “Where is Padre Crespi’s collection?” The gatekeeper emits a deep sigh: “It was sold in its entirety to the ‘Banco Central’!”

And yet, I will be successful in photographing some of the mysterious objects inside the Monastery. These photos have never before been published. Here, I am showing these images for the first time! They are documents that give evidence of a sad discovery. They show artifacts trampled underfoot—and which have most likely vanished by now!

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection

Esteban Salazar, who is the caretaker of the Crespi Collection at the ‘Banco Central’, interjects: “Our bank has acquired only the terracotta and stone objects! Many of the metal items must still be in your monastery!” ‘Brother Gatekeeper’ promises to enquire about it. We may return in a few hours. Willi Dünnenberger, two other travel companions and I amble along the ‘Gaspar Sangurima’ and the ‘General Torres’ streets.


We enjoy the ‘Maria Auxiliadora’ park. It offers respite in a dusty, dirty, and loud city. A monument to Padre Crespi stands there. It is a memorial to the archaeologist and clergyman. We watch as some native inhabitants place flowers at its base. Thus, they remember the padre, who was one of them. With the floral tributes they continue to demonstrate their gratitude ten years after his demise.

At the prearranged time we return to the main portal of the monastery. What a surprise! We are permitted to enter! “There could still be metal tablets from Crespi’s collection…somewhere in the monastery!” ‘Brother Gatekeeper’ explains to me. “May we be permitted to see some of the artifacts?” The monk hesitates. “If there is still such a thing here, then Brother Superior must decide.” The latter would decide about our enquiry. But that could take a while.

The Salesian gatekeeper cannot fathom this: Some Germans from far away Europe travel to Ecuador, only to inspect Padre Crespi’s allegedly worthless collection. I ask: “Why did Padre Crespi collect worthless metal junk, as well as stone and terracotta artifacts of immense value? Was he unable to distinguish archaeological treasures from useless rubbish?” Brother Superior will answer my questions, if he can spare the time.

Searching for the Truth

Hours of more waiting followed. A statue of Mother Mary in the courtyard of the monastery attracts my attention. It is the ‘helpful Mother of God’, the name-giver of the monastery. I count three levels on the building. There are many windows. A decaying wooden staircase leads up to each of the levels. And suddenly, I make a sad discovery—everywhere I look I see metal plates and tablets, some of them merely millimeters thin—they contain mysterious symbols. They are the artifacts from Padre Crespi’s collection. The monks used them to repair the stairs, the walls, and the floors.

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection used to line walls.

Photo of metal plate of Father Crespi’s Collection used to line walls.

A young brother follows me around, step by step. I point to one of the metal plates. “Is this from Padre Crespi’s collection?” He nods. When I ready my camera, the otherwise taciturn monk snaps at me: “No Photos!” During the ensuing hours, I walk back and forth, up and down the monastery courtyard, under the constant, watchful eye of my guardian. And yet, I succeed in taking several photos—without looking through the viewfinder, ‘free-hand’ as it were.

Repeatedly, I pace around the courtyard, climb the partly rotten stairs, walk past barred windows…

Are the treasures, which have allegedly been sold to the ‘Banco Central’, where only the ceramic and stone items arrived, behind those windows? One of the monks reveals to me that, since Däniken’s publishing of Aussaat und Kosmos , veritable armies of travellers followed the trail of the Swiss author, wanting to see the metal tablets. The monastery inhabitants had fobbed them off with the advice: “Everything was sold to the bank!” The small trick worked! The monk gives me a mischievous grin.


Most of what is see in the photos are pieces of tin or other another type of sheet metal. They are crudely made "artifacts" that the indigenous people most likely fabricated to fool a tired old priest. The metal in some of the photos is rusty and decaying. Not what one would expect to see if they were a genuine artifact. They should, in my opinion, be made of a precious metal, like silver or gold. Not tin or something else. One will never know what became of the "real artifacts" as they were sold or melted for their metal content. The sculpture or pottery are just works of art by the indigenous peoples for everyday use or for trade.

Thank you for your comment. In my article I simply report, that I saw the artifacts in the monastery of the now deceased Father Crespi. I describe them as artifacts, as they are man made. Every object, created by man, is called artifact, "facere" in Latin means "to make". Interesting in my opinion are the motives, depicted on the sheets of metal. Father Crespi's sculptures and pottery are not the subject of my travelogue. They were sold to a Museum for a considerable amount of money. The title of my article clarifies my intentions: On the trail of the Father Crespi Collection.

Awesome article. I just wish there was more on Father Crespi himself.

Marior, thank you for your kind comment!

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