Carlo Crespi Croci was born in Italy in 1891 in a small town near Milan. He chose the path of a priest in his early childhood when he helped with services in the church. When he was15 years old, Carlo became a novice in one of the monasteries of the Salesian Order.
Besides he managed to get his education at the University of Padua. Originally he specialized in anthropology, and then got his doctorate in engineering work and music simultaneously.
The first time Crespi was in Ecuador was in 1923, but not as a missionary but to collect different data for an international exhibition. In 1931 Crespi was appointed to the Salesian mission in Makas – a small town in the Ecuadorian jungle. His stay there was short, in 1933 he was transferred to the city of Cuenca. Cuenca is located approximately 230 kilometers south of the capital Quito.
The anthropological interests of Padre Crespi led to the point that, from the beginning of his missionary work, he started to buying the ancient objects the locals had found in the fields or in the jungle. The appalling poverty of the local population allowed him to literally acquire incredible values for pennies.
As a result, his collection occupied three large rooms in the college Cornelio Merchan. Local brought him all kinds of stuff – from Inca pottery to stone blocks and thrones. The Padre himself never made a catalog of his collection, which is why it is difficult to call it a collection at all.
Generally the things Crespi collected can be divided into three parts. The first part included contemporary production – workings of local Indians imitating models of ancient Ecuadorian art or made according to Christian tradition. Numerous objects made in XVI-XIX century can be included in it.
The second part, the largest one, was made of objects from various cultures of Ecuador pre-hispanic era that the local residents found in their fields or during excavations. So the collection of Crespi acquired ceramics of all Indian cultures of Ecuador, with the exception of the earliest – the Valdivia culture.
But the greatest interest is aroused by the third part of the collection. It consists of artefacts that cannot be attributed to any of the known cultures of America. Mainly these were objects of copper, copper alloy and sometimes gold.
The most interesting ones were numerous metal plates covered with thematic images and…. inscriptions. Padre Crespi collected more than a hundred such plates. The images on those plates had nothing to do with the cultural traditions of ancient America. They had a direct relation to the cultures of the Old World, but rather to the civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
For example, one of the plates depicted a correct (not stepped) pyramid, similar to the pyramids at the Giza plateau. There was an inscription in an unknown language at the bottom of this plate. Two elephants were depicted in the bottom corners.
The vast amount of objects in the collection of Crespi makes us rethink our notions of contacts between the Old and the New World in antiquity. It is known that there were metal plates depicting well-known winged bulls of Nineveh in the collection of Crespi. One of the plates depicts a priest with a tiara similar to the papal one or reminiscent of the crown of Lower Egypt.
On many of the plates there is a winding snake – a symbol of the cosmic serpent.
Besides plates of copper and copper alloys the collection of Crespi includes many stone tablets, engraved with images and inscriptions in unknown languages. It is noteworthy that those were the ones, according to Crespi, which were found by the Indians in the jungles, in underground tunnels and chambers. Padre Crespi claimed that an ancient system of underground tunnels, more than 200 kilometers long, stretched in the jungles from the town of Cuenca.
In 1962 the college „Cornelio Merchan“ was destroyed by fire. Most of Crespi’s collection was rescued, but the room with the most valuable objects burned down. Over the ruins of the college Crespi erected the church „Maria Auxiliadora“ that still exists today.
Crespi himself died in 1982 at the age of 91. Shortly before his death, in 1980, he sold much of his collection to the Museum of the Central Bank in Cuenca (Museo Del Banco Central). The bank paid Crespi 433,000 dollars, which were used for building a new school.
The museum made a selection of the items in the Crespi collection in order to separate the valuable antique objects from the modern imitations. Many artifacts were “misplaced” in the process. Apparently the museum selected the items belonging to the famous ancient cultures of Ecuador.
According to some data multiple plates were returned to the church „Maria Auxiliadora“ and it is possible that they are still stored there today.