An Eastern version of the Last Supper fresco by Leonardo da Vinci at a Catholic church in Greater Tainan’s Yenshui District (鹽水) has started to fade and peel as a result of frequent downpours, water leaks and the effect of visitors’ powerful camera flashes and is now in need of financial aid so repair and restoration work can be undertaken, the church said.
Constructed in 1986 and featuring traditional Chinese palace-style architecture, the Yenshui Holy Spirit Church is home to a unique Eastern version of the Leonardo masterpiece in Milan, Italy.
Unlike the world-renowned mural painting, the Taiwanese version depicted the biblical scene in a traditional Chinese painting style and the 13 figures — originally including Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples — were all replaced by Chinese martyr saints.
Instead of bread and wine and the Western-style dining utensils that appear in the original, there are steamed buns and chopsticks.
Other murals within the church are centered around historical Chinese sages, including an image of Chinese philosophers Laozi (老子) and Confucius (孔子) encouraging young children to work hard, as part of the church’s effort to draw Taiwanese closer to Biblical legends.
The rare decoration has received widespread media coverage and has attracted a constant stream of tourists from Hong Kong and China in recent years, with popular Taiwanese director Wu Nien-jen (吳念真) also choosing the church as a film location.
“However, the ‘Last Supper’ and several other frescos in the church are in a poor state of preservation. The low-lying terrain on which the church is located makes the establishment susceptible to flooding, while its roof has started leaking after the property fell into disrepair,” said Wu Fu-sheng (巫福生), the church’s priest.
In addtion to the water damage, camera flashes have begun to bleach the paintings, which are beginning to flake away, Wu said, calling for financial and professional assistance from all sectors of society to help repair the creations.
Accompanied by officials from the city’s Cultural Affairs Bureau, Greater Tainan Councilor Lee Tui-chih (李退之) of the Democratic Progressive Party recently conducted an on-site inspection of the church.
Lee said that the church, despite having failed to be designated as a heritage site, was of unique artistic character, which could serve as a big draw for foreign tourists.
Pledging to petition the cultural bureau in a bid to bolster preservation work, Lee said he would also urge the bureau to aid the repair of the murals and allow more people to see the place of worship by planning a well-thought-out tour route of the district.
Bureau director Yeh Tse-shan (葉澤山) said that the church was not eligible for a preservation subsidy because its lack of heritage status, but pledged to offer professional assistance to help mend the rare murals.