"This museum is a vibrant testimony of spirituality and ecumenism, and a great mark of respect for others.
The world is diverse, complex, and sometimes sad.
This museum brings peace, openness and human intelligence"
"Thank you for giving a deep meaning to this new museum, and for giving as much to understand as to see"
"What are our roots? "The mask, the reflection of the other: thank you for existing"
Spiritan Museum of African Arts
The Spiritan Museum of African Arts is housed within the Spiritan community site of St. Joseph of Allex, in the department (county) of the Drôme.
Allex is a charming "hilltop village” built on a prominent hill over the Drôme valley. Located 20 minutes from Valence, the municipality has 2.500 inhabitants and enjoys a strategic location: halfway between Lyon, Grenoble and Avignon, on the north-south axis between Paris and Marseille, in the heart of a department entirely focused on tourism and nature.
The community is housed in a castle in the Italian style of the eighteenth century, which was extended by the addition of two new wings in the 1930s. The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi inspired these. A gentle Mediterranean atmosphere bathes this place that welcomes all year a large audience in search of spiritual dialogue and meetings.
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit and Africa
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit is a Catholic missionary society founded in France in the eighteenth century with the mission to bring the message of the Gospel throughout the world.
It acts specifically in the areas with social problems and countries that have never or scarcely heard of Jesus Christ.
Established in Africa since the early nineteenth century, the Congregation has played a very important role in the evangelization of the Black continent.
Announcing the future role of the Spiritans in Africa, Father Schwindenhammer asserted in 1853: "We must hold to Africa as our soul and consider it as the main work of our congregation".
At first in charge of the Vicariate of the Two Guineas which stretches along the western coast (from Senegal to South Africa), and then settled on the shores of East Africa (Zanzibar, Bagamoyo), the Spiritans undertake responsibility in the 1880’s for the territories of the future French Equatorial Africa (Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and part of Chad).
Since those early days, their presence on the African continent has never wavered.
Missionaries and Ethnologists
The evangelization of African peoples requires a profound knowledge of local languages as well as customs of each ethnic group.
Actively participating in the late nineteenth century in the development of ethnology, this nascent science, many Spiritan missionaries acquire language and ethnographic knowledge that, a century later, still refer.
In return, the Spiritan develop a great respect for the people and cultures they discover.
Among the countries under their responsibility, current Gabon and Congo are undoubtedly the favorite field of ethnographic research conducted by the Spiritan missionaries, the best known are Fathers Augouard, Le Roy, Trilles, Tastevin or even Estermann.
Their works, admittedly marked by their time, do reflect a major step forward in Western thought, which finally directs its resources towards the sympathetic understanding of foreign cultures.
The Spiritan missionaries then conduct important field collections.
For over a century, they send to France hundreds of objects scattered on different sites of the Congregation or partially assembled in small museums established in communities.
Following the recent restructuring of various locations in the Congregation, the problem of preservation and enhancement of the Spiritan collections became urgently apparent.
The idea of a new public open space has emerged which would give recognition to African culture by inviting respect and recognition of its fundamental richness. The project of the Spiritan Museum of African Arts was born.
The Spiritan African Art collections
The Spiritan collections are an exceptional testimony of life, traditions, art and beliefs of the people of Central Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The vast majority of works collected by the Spiritans are from Gabon, Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa.
The variety of objects kept in the collections is very wide; they are as much about everyday life (tools, dishes, chairs, weapons, musical instruments, jewelry, etc) as the Sacred (initiation rites, liturgy secret societies, therapeutic or divination, etc.), with many masks and sculptures. Among them are major works in the history of African art.
Most of these objects, miraculously preserved, remained up to now unseen by the general public or specialists.
This is a fabulous opportunity to now bring them out of the shadows and make them accessible to all.
Whom is that museum for?
From the simplest artifacts (seat, cane, weapon, amulet, etc.) to the most sacred sculptures (reliquary statues, masks initiation societies, etc.), the museum also present a selection of rare and beautiful items and will allow the public to discover the life and beliefs of the peoples of Central Africa from more than a century ago.
But the museum also aims to be a place fully open to the contemporary world.
To this end, it will propose to give voice to present day Africans through multimedia and various animation devices.
Adults and children, Christians and secular, art lovers and simple novices, will all be invited to discover the riches of historical and present day African cultures in a spirit of openness and simplicity.