Shrine of Our Lady of Matara - Renovations, Loss and Recovery

Renovations, Loss and Recovery

When the renovations were complete, the statue was packed in a wooden crate and shipped in the cargo boat Beachy, which set sail from Antwerp. The ship was caught in a fierce storm in the North Sea. It was nearly wrecked but did manage to reach Middlesbrough, England, the next morning. Most of the cargo was found to have been destroyed or thrown overboard. When the ship reached Minicoy, India, it was discovered that the statue had gone missing.

An investigation was initiated by the Bishop of Galle and Belgian priests in the Galle Diocese. These investigations traced the statue to a man in Middlesbrough. When confronted, he refused to hand over the statue unless his demands for money were met. When these demands were refused, he used a hammer to deface the statue, and then threw it away. The statue was recovered and sent back to the restorer in Ghent, who made repairs and repainted it.

The Bishop of Galle, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Van Reeth, took possession of the statue and set sail to Matara in the steamer Princess Alice. When he reached Colombo and looked for his luggage, the crate containing the statue could not be found.

Three days later a Belgian cargo boat named the Uckermarck arrived in Colombo with the missing crate. The excess luggage of the Princess Alice had been loaded onto the Uckermarck, which set sail after the Princess Alice had left Antwerp harbor.

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