Paul Hendricks discusses the Healing Cross of Metamora, Ind. Photo by Margo Pierce.
The mystery of the Healing Cross of Metamora
By Gregory Flannery
Tiny Metamora, Ind. – population 188, according to the 2010 U.S. Census – is an unlikely place to find looted art. Maybe that’s why no one has tried to reclaim the 500-year-old Healing Cross of Metamora. Or maybe the sculpture is long forgotten in its homeland; many churches were destroyed during World War II. Or maybe it isn’t war booty at all.
The first odd thing about the Healing Cross is that its owner, Paul Hendricks, virtually boasts that it is stolen property. In the shrine he built for the cross, a sign says four U.S. soldiers found it in a cave behind a fake wall in France in 1946 and brought it to the United States.
Thirty years later, Hendricks says, he was present when the four army veterans sold the cross to his friend, Hans Lindemann, in San Diego, Cal.
“In 1976 he called me,” Hendricks says. “I went to be a witness to what was going to happen. Four men came in. He bought the cross. These four men were actually GIs from World War II. They found the cross in a cave behind a fake wall in Alsace-Lorraine. I saw the photos. They show four GIs holding the cross. It’s basically like Monuments Men.”
The comparison falls flat, however. The film Monuments Men is about U.S. soldiers recovering looted art from Nazi hideaways, not keeping it for themselves.
The sculpture now known as the Healing Cross of Metamora – actually a crucifix, showing Jesus of Nazareth on a cross – is five feet tall, wood inlaid with mother of pearl, with depictions of various New Testament stories, including the Last Supper and Resurrection. Some saints are represented, and the crucifix contains what Hendricks says are 14 first-class relics – Roman Catholic parlance for “bones of saints.” When Lindemann saw the crucifix, he had to have it, Hendricks says.
“Hans fell in love with it,” Hendricks says. “He made a cash offer, and he bought it.”
After Lindemann died in 1992, Hendricks bought the crucifix from his widow, taking it to Metamora in 1998 and opening his shrine in 2001, he says.
Hendricks prefers to discuss unusual events that he says have occurred since he acquired the crucifix. But when pressed, he acknowledges that its provenance might be a problem. His goal is to share a beautiful religious symbol with others, he says, not to deprive the people of France of part of their culture.
“If anybody has a legitimate claim, I’ll give it up,” he says.
The locals caught on
Hendricks says he is a retired high-school business teacher from San Diego who developed a taste for collecting artifacts during a stint in the Peace Corps in 1967-68. He is the owner of the Museum of Oddities, a Metamora attraction that includes some 2,000 miscellaneous items he has acquired over the decades.
He points to various items, most identified by handwritten inscriptions on index cards or scraps of paper: “That head is thousands of years old. … I dug those up in 1967 in Venezuela.”
He expounded upon his Venezuelan digging years later for the Whitewater Valley Guide, a local business publication.
“(Hendricks) heard about a particular pre-Columbian site nearby and went there with a friend, got permission from the local tribe and dug up old treasures,” the article says. “He said the local people thought he was crazy to be interested in that old stuff, but when he came back in 1970 ‘everybody was doing it,’ he said. The locals had caught on and it wasn’t as easy to get permission.”
Hendricks is seemingly un-self-conscious in disclosing what archeologists would describe as “looting.” He is not a trained archeologist, nor a trained curator. The Museum of Oddities – originally the Museum of Ethnographic Art, founded in 1986 – is a mishmash of curios, religious items, North American native spear-points and Western and non-Western art. Admission is $3. A sign on the door gives fair warning: “Caution: This place is haunted! Paranormal activity has been experienced in and around this building!”
Advertisements for the museum feature Hendricks in a pith helmet as “Indiana Joe.” One first-time visitor, filmmaker Paul Logan of Cincinnati, seemed to think the museum, which he visited at a previous location, might be a Temple of Doom.
“Paul flipped on the lights to reveal a museum of Pre-Columbian art, voodoo dolls, and Native American art,” Logan wrote. “There’s a Mayan death rattle, shrunken heads and glass cases full of skulls. Death everywhere. … Paul backed out of the room. In my head, I pictured Paul coming back in a black robe. I snapped pictures as if the only thing someone might find of me would be my camera. The smell in the room became stronger.
“Oh my God, he’s gassing the room.”
Logan survived the encounter and became friends with Hendricks, creating a brief video in which Indiana Joe reveals he has sacred stones that open a portal to let Jesus return, starting the end of the world.
‘Better be quiet’
Part huckster, part true believer, Hendricks says he has never had the history of the Healing Cross documented, nor has he had it appraised.
“It needs to be cleaned, and it needs to be restored,” he says. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
But parts of his story can be verified:
- Hans Lindemann did, in fact have the crucifix before it went to Metamora. Lindemann owned the Museum of American Treasures in San Diego. A 1983 San Diego Union article about the museum doesn’t mention the sculpture. But the article includes a photograph of the crucifix. The caption, however, describes it as “a mother-of-pearl altar piece that was brought to Lindemann from Africa,” not purchased from GIs who found it in France. Perhaps Lindemann knew better than to say how he got it.
- Lindemann’s elderly widow, Shirley, confirms parts of Hendricks’s account, according to her son, Dennis Crosby of Phoenix, Ariz.
“I spoke with my mother, and she does remember the crucifix being sold to Hans’ friend Paul, and a request for any possible photos about the crucifix, but she does not remember ever finding any photos of the crucifix,” Crosby says.
- Hendricks claims he took photos of the crucifix to the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2001, hoping to show them to Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“He said, You don’t have a clue, do you?’ His specialty was Renaissance ivory,” Hendricks says. “He said, ‘This is from the late 1500s to early 1600s.’ He said, ‘You better be quiet about it or somebody’s gonna make a claim.’ ”
While that conversation cannot be verified, and Hoving is dead, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Hoving was, in fact, scheduled July 19, 2001, to speak at the Art Museum.
- Not enough to have acquired stones that can bring back Jesus, Hendricks claims to have been in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw smoke rising from the Pentagon after terrorists crashed a jetliner into the building.
Sure enough, an article in the Houston Chronicle quoted “Paul Hendricks, a retired San Diego schoolteacher” who was with a friend “touring the Capitol Building on Tuesday morning when the plane hit the Pentagon, about three miles away.”
The Healing Cross is indisputably a beautiful object. Owen Findsen, retired art critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer, has not seen the crucifix but says photographs shared by a reporter indicate it is something of note.
“The figures and some of the decorative elements are sophisticated, but some of the patterns are rather crude,” he says.
The 14 relics – which Hendricks says are bones of saints, a claim he has not verified – are likely something else, according to Findsen.
“These would be Stations of the Cross, probably pebbles picked up by a pilgrim in Jerusalem,” he says. “People have been collecting pebbles from the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem since the 3rd century A.D., and they still are.”
And the number of the Stations of the Cross makes it unlikely the sculpture is, as Hendricks asserts, about 500 years old. The history of the Catholic Church’s veneration of the stations tells otherwise, Findsen says.
“Until the 17th century, only seven stations were acknowledged, so this has to be at least 17th century,” he says.
That American soldiers looted art in Europe during World War II is well established.
David Malakoff, deputy news editor at Science magazine in Washington, D.C., wrote about it for Slate last year, after the release of Monuments Men.
“The U.S. high command fretted about the plunder,” he wrote. “General Dwight D. Eisenhower had received numerous bitter complaints about looting from allies in France, Belgium and other liberated Nazi territories.”
The Healing Cross is so large that it would seem difficult for four soldiers to smuggle it into the United States. But not so, according to Steve Waddell, a history professor at West Point.
“I study World War II logistics and do know that soldiers sent back all kinds of things without the ‘Army’ knowing about it,” he says. “At the war’s end the Army was sending vast quantities of stuff back home, and keeping track of it all was very difficult, especially with soldiers being discharged and sent home. It would not be impossible for someone to crate up something and find a way to get it home. … When you have a buddy at the post office or in the supply system, anything might be possible.”
Findsen, the retired art critic, made an observation about the sculpture’s construction.
“Why are all the decorative parts cut into small pieces, not always corresponding with the designs?” he says. “If this was an object stolen by American soldiers, it was sent home in small pieces. It may even be an assemblage from different objects.”
Hendricks himself unwittingly illustrates the point during an interview. As he turned the sculpture to show the back side, a piece of mother-of-pearl fell off.
“Some pieces have fallen off, and I’ve glued them back on,” he says.
Seventy years after the fall of the Nazi regime, finds of looted art still make headlines. One of the leading agencies in the effort to restore looted art to its rightful owners is the European Commission on Looted Art (ECLA) in London. After reviewing photos of the Healing Cross, Anne Webber of the ECLA presented a clue as to the sculpture’s history.
“We have consulted an expert in such items who advises that it seems very similar to crosses made in Bethlehem in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” she says.
Bethlehem, on the West Bank, was home to a thriving industry making Christian religious symbols using mother-of-pearl, many now prized collectors’ items and available for sale online. Bethlehem is certainly closer to Africa, where Lindemann reportedly said the crucifix originated, than France.
Hendricks bristles at the ECLA’s suggestion.
“I’ve seen those things in Bethlehem,” he says. “They have inlay and mother of pearl. It’s $10 to $23 – nothing of this quality, not like this.”
If the ECLA’s suggestion is accurate, left unanswered is why the Healing Cross contains a figure of “S. Pierre” – French for St. Peter. Perhaps the crucifix was, in fact, made for a French church or private owner.
Webber acknowledges that the ECLA’s suggestion doesn’t disprove Hendricks’s claim.
“This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t looted, of course, but the history provided about the U.S. soldiers sounds like it may not be completely accurate,” Webber says. “But who knows. … Do you happen to know how much the current owner paid for it? It may be worth asking him.”
Hendricks gives a characteristically colorful account of his purchase from Shirley Lindemann. When her husband died, Hendricks says, she asked Hendricks to buy some of Hans Lindemann’s museum collection. It was at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, Hendricks says.
“In a very flippant manner, she said, ‘Buy that cross.’ I said, ‘That’s his most prized possession.’ I said, ‘I’m a teacher. I don’t have a lot of money.’ My checkbook was in my shirt pocket,” Hendricks says. “She grabbed it and saw how much I had. She said, ‘Take everything out but $100 and give me the rest.’ She took the cash and I got the cross. She couldn’t find the photographs.”
But exactly how much did Hendricks pay? He refuses to say.
“I’m not going into financial things with the cross,” he says. “The cross is too important to talk about money.”
The ECLA requested additional information if it becomes available. Other organizations, which one might expect to have an interest in art allegedly looted by American soldiers, showed none. Repeated inquiries with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.; and the Catholic Archdiocese of Strasbourg, France, have gone unanswered. So, too, with inquiries at Bethlehem University on the West Bank.
Earlier this year the French Ministry of Culture said it might be able to help. Language differences do not conceal the goodwill expressed by Anne-Christine Tcheuffa-Marcou.
“I take care of find you somebody who can answer you precisely,” she wrote. “I shall not miss to come back to you as quickly as possible. It risks to take time because it is not always easy to find the good interlocutor straight off. But I shall give you the maximum of precision.”
Ready to talk
That was in April. So far, no “good interlocutor” seems to have been found.
The true story behind the Healing of Cross of Metamora remains unknown. Hendricks says he was present when the four Army veterans sold it to Hans Lindemann and saw the photos showing them with the sculpture in a cave in Alsace-Lorraine, France. He doesn’t know their names, and Lindemann’s widow never found the photos.
“Nothing much was said,” Hendricks says. “I think they found it – I won’t say ‘looted.’ I think it’s a 30-year statute of limitations; and if no claim is made, they can keep it: ‘Hey, it’s yours. You’ve got title to it.’ ”
Just as the ECLA urged skepticism, so does Waddell, the professor at West Point.
“I am not an expert on such law, but I am skeptical about the 30-year story,” he says.
For Hendricks, what’s important are the visions and unusual events that have happened since he acquired the Healing Cross.
“A series of things began to happen,” he says.
Indiana Joe is glad to talk at length about them.