In a small village named Espel, in The Netherlands, a young man’s adventurous spirit stirred restlessly. At the tender age of 18, Peter Vredeveld decided that there was a world beyond the quiet polder where he grew up. Thus began a journey that would eventually lead him to Southeast Asia and a lifetime of collecting and preserving ancient Buddha statues.
Unveiling the Adventurer Within
Peter’s voyage commenced with a brief volunteering stint in Nepal, initially planned for ten weeks. Fate, however, had a different plan, and those ten weeks magically extended into a year. This pivotal year marked the genesis of a profound connection with Southeast Asia and its way of life, a connection that continues to shape Peter’s life even after fifteen years.
The allure of Southeast Asia lay not just in its breathtaking landscapes but also in its unique tranquility. Peter recalls his experience in a remote mountain village where he lived during his volunteer work: “It was demanding work, but amidst the toil, I noticed something different – a distinct absence of haste. Buddhism, with its core principle of ‘letting go,’ resonated with me. I found a parallel here.”
The Birth of a Collection
Peter’s deepening interest in Buddhism led him to discover ancient Buddha statues during a trip to Burma in 1999, when he was just 19. Among these treasures, one statue captured his heart. He decided to acquire it and bring it back to the Netherlands. Little did he know that this acquisition would sow the seeds of his lifelong passion for collecting and trading Buddha statues.
A Tradition of Generosity
Central to Buddhism is the notion of generosity. Peter shares, “Buddhism is very much alive.” Temples receive abundant donations, necessitating the replacement of old Buddha statues with new ones. Unlike Western preferences for antiques, Asia values new and shiny items, which is why old wooden temple cabinets are making way for gleaming versions illuminated by LED lights. Peter’s collection includes several antique temple cabinets, each with its own unique history.
Journeying into the Unknown
Peter’s quest for Buddha statues often leads him to remote and challenging locales. Sometimes, the search unfolds via boat and moped, while at other times, it involves a day-long train journey followed by a trek through dense jungles. But amidst these arduous journeys, Peter returns with treasures like a Buddha statue from the twelfth century, adorned with golden eyebrows and eyes inlaid with copper and silver.
A Serendipitous Encounter
Amidst these adventures, a serendipitous encounter added a new chapter to Peter’s life story. He met Sangita in a hotel during one of his trips to Nepal, and their connection grew deeper with time. Today, Sangita is not only his life partner but also a part of the beautiful story they are weaving together. The couple, along with their two children, resides in the parsonage house adjacent to the church that now houses Peter’s remarkable collection.
Crafting the Future
As the collection of Buddha statues grew over the years, Peter and Sangita faced a pivotal moment. They had initially stored the acquired statues in his parents’ farm. However, as his parents decided to sell the farm due to its age, Peter and Sangita found themselves pondering the future. Their lives had shifted from the Himalayan village to the markedly different landscape of Emmeloord.
Acquiring a Sanctuary
In 2016, a significant decision would redefine their journey. Peter and Sangita purchased the Johannes Vianney Church on the Rielerweg in Deventer. This monumental church, which had closed its doors in 2014 due to a dwindling congregation, became the new home for Peter’s cherished Buddha statues.
The church’s transformation was nothing short of remarkable. In its initial days as the new guardian of the Buddha statues, Peter conducted guided tours. Local residents, both old and new, visited to witness the metamorphosis and shared stories of the church’s rich history, which included weddings and funerals held within its walls.
From Confessions to Buddha Statues
The sacristy at the back of the church now serves as Peter’s workshop. Amidst the original cabinets that once held funeral booklets, evening wake booklets, and hosts, he now lovingly restores Buddha statues. The cabinets that once witnessed confessions now house tools used for this artistic endeavor.
A Tranquil Retreat
In the old vegetable garden of the church, Sangita operates a Bed and Breakfast. Guests have the unique opportunity to spend their nights in Gypsy wagons nestled at the back of the garden. Sangita expresses, “It’s been going well, but when it gets too busy, our family takes precedence, and the Gypsy wagons are temporarily unavailable.” Their commitment to family and their ability to shape their own time is a testament to their balanced approach to life.
A Journey Home
Today, the Buddha statues embark on their own adventures, while Peter has embraced the serenity of Buddhism and the Buddha statues he treasures. He’s found his sanctuary within the church’s calm embrace, a place where he returns after each adventure, back to his cherished family and the serenity that fills his life alongside the Buddha statues.
For more information about this captivating journey and the Buddha statues, please visit Peter’s website at OriginalBuddhas.