A 19th century bejewelled altarpiece is among the more unique lots in Sotheby's upcoming 19th century furniture auction in New York on November 16 - partly because it is only because of Hurricane Katrina that the piece is appearing for sale.
The 19th century monstrance - from the Latin word "monstrare" meaning to show - was made in France in 1857 by Jean Alexandre Chertier for the Irish Channel church. It is one of just three built in the 1800s by the Redemptorists, a group founded in Italy in 1732 to care for neglected people.
This very monstrance was at the St Alphonsus Church of New Orleans, Louisiana, during the time of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, the legendary German-American Roman Catholic priest. It is depicted in a mural at the church.
The piece was bought by longtime antiques dealer Charles "Jerry" Rosato in the late 1990s. Back then, he paid just $5,000. The piece has since resurfaced on the markets after Rosato consigned it to Sotheby's to help pay off a $30,000 Katrina-related loan.
Bought for $5,000 in the early-1990s, this monstrance is today
Perhaps not surprisingly, Rosato's auctioning of the sacred altarpiece has drawn controversy. This includes criticism from New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who says that church law prohibits the sale of such sacred objects to non-members of the church.
"A monstrance holds the body of Christ, and should never be auctioned off for money," said the Archbishop as quoted by news source The Advertiser, adding that he was "very concerned and very disturbed" by the sale.
Rosato insists that he never intended to profit from his ownership of the monstrance, which he originally bought from Reverend Alton Carr of St Mary's Assumption Church and intended to keep until his death.
Yet $275,000 of damage to the Kenner auction house, where Rosato had been storing his goods, from both the hurricane itself and resultant looting has apparently left him with no choice. The altarpiece will appear with a $40,000-80,000 pre-sale estimate.