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The Salvado Era: 1846 - 1900
The first fifty years of New Norcia’s history are dominated by the towering figure of Bishop Rosendo Salvado (1814 – 1900). Salvado spent 54 years of his life making New Norcia one of the most progressive and successful missions in Australian history. Salvado’s original vision was to create, among the indigenous peoples of the Victoria Plains, a Christian, largely self-sufficient village based on agriculture.
However, after the decimation of the local populations by introduced diseases in the 1860’s, he concentrated his activity on giving a practical education to the indigenous children who were brought to New Norcia from all over the state. Like other missionaries of the nineteenth century, his aim was to ‘civilise and evangelise’ according to the European ideals of the time, but he did so with sympathy for indigenous culture that was rare in his day.
Salvado led a monastic community which, at its height, numbered seventy men, most of whom were Spaniards and lay brothers. His several fundraising trips to Europe provided him with the means to acquire land, to construct buildings and to purchase books, vestments, art works and ritual objects as well as stock and equipment. Practical success and his own personal charm combined to make Salvado both a notable Western Australian and an international figure in the Benedictine world.
Sadly, in 1900 during a trip to Rome, Salvado became ill and died at the age of eighty-six at the Monastery of St Paul Outside the Walls. His body was brought back to New Norcia by the Community and interred in the Abbey Church where it rests today. It is a reported that when news of Salvado’s death reached New Norcia the local Aboriginal people cried and wailed for three days.