Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. Past, present and (which) future?

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Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. Past, present and (which) future? Vishvesh Kandolkar, Joaquim Rodrigues dos Santos, José Delgado Rodrigues, Fleur D'Souza, Edgar Ribeiro 25 March 2021

Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. Past, present and (which) future?

Dr. Vishvesh Kandolkar
Looking beyond the surface: The visual history of the Basilica of Bom Jesus

Dr. Joaquim Rodrigues dos Santos
Architecture as propaganda: The restoration of the Basilica of Bom Jesus in the late-Portuguese period

Dr. José Delgado Rodrigues
What to expect from stones exposed to harsh environmental conditions?

Dr. Fleur D’Souza
How did a 440 year-old parish church, just outside the city limits of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, get a new lease of life?

Prof. Edgar Ribeiro
Chair and final notes

25 March 2021
12:30 GMT/WET, 13:30 CET, 18:00 IST


ARTIS – Instituto de História da Arte
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa

Goa College of Architecture
University of Goa

Looking beyond the surface: The visual history of the Basilica of Bom Jesus

The next exposition of St. Francis Xavier’s relics, to be held in 2024, will mark 400 years since the transfer of the saint’s body to the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The church, built exclusively for the purpose of memorialising the relics, was constructed between 1594-1605 and has been part of the living heritage of Goans for four centuries. The recent outrage in Goa regarding the Archaeological Survey of India’s neglect of Bom Jesus has raised many questions regarding the protection and conservation of this living heritage monument. One such pressing issue is about the church’s ‘look’. While the current generation of Goans has grown accustomed to seeing the Basilica’s exposed laterite walls, this is not the way the building was designed, nor indeed the way it looked until about 60 years ago. Until then, the church’s exterior was protected by plaster, as it had been from the time it received the remains of the saint. It was the famous restorer from Portugal, Baltazar da Silva Castro, who in the 1950s brought about the dramatic transformation of the external appearance of the Basilica at the behest of António de Oliveira de Salazar. The misguided restoration was part of the then-prime minister’s attempt to age monuments, thus making them appear older than they were, in an effort to proclaim the antiquity of the Portuguese Empire during the era of decolonisation. Although re-plastering the building’s surface would increase its life expectancy, because it would also stop leaks that have deteriorated the edifice, the Basilica continues to remain unplastered because people have been fed a particular (mis)representation of the monument’s appearance in the contemporary moment. In offering a critical engagement with the architectural history of Bom Jesus, this talk contributes to contemporary debates about the monument and issues related to its conservation. Such efforts are necessary to ensure that Bom Jesus – the church so inextricably linked to the afterlife of St. Francis Xavier – will, as Goans hope, continue to stand as a monument to their saint for centuries to come.

Vishvesh Kandolkar – Associate Professor at Goa College of Architecture, researches Goa’s architectural history with a focus on early modern church design and the creation of Indo-Portuguese aesthetics and their afterlife. Apart from considering the social aspects of architectural legacies, he also attends to neoliberal co-optations of design influences. The focus of Kandolkar’s Ph.D. research was on the cultural history of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is among the few monuments to have survived the steady decline of Old Goa, the city which was once the capital (1530-1843) of the Estado da Índia. A major departure of his research offers in its study of Indo-Portuguese architectural history is in its exclusive focus on the long history of one building, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which houses the relics of St. Francis Xavier, so as to understand the relationship between the famed monument and regional identity-making of and in Goa. Currently, Kandolkar is the Programme Coordinator for Master of Architecture in Urban Design at Goa College of Architecture. Kandolkar is winner of number of awards, including special mention Jury Award for the International Competition for the Campus Design for School and Planning and Architecture (SPA), Vasant Kunj, 2017 (with The Bodhi Tree). He is also a gold medallist from CEPT University, having won the Sir Patrick Geddes Award for the Best Architecture student in Urban Design in the year 2007 and also the Vastu Shilp Foundation award for the Best Graduating student 2007. Kandolkar’s writing on art, architecture, and cultural politics has been published in various forums, including Goan newspapers and also peer-reviewed journals, such as Economic and Political Weekly and Journal of Human Values. Currently, Kandolkar is the Programme Coordinator for Master of Architecture in Urban Design at Goa College of Architecture.

Architecture as propaganda: The restoration of the Basilica of Bom Jesus in the late-Portuguese period

The Basilica of Bom Jesus is one of the major symbols of Goa (India): it holds the tomb of the “Apostle of the East” and, at the same time, gives a glimpse of the former “Golden Goa” and “Rome of the East”, when Goa was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. This basilica was built by Jesuits between 1594 and 1624, and in 1659 it received the body of Saint Francis Xavier. However, in 1759 the Society of Jesus was expelled from all the Portuguese territories, and the Jesuit building was assigned to other institutions. While the basilica was being built, the city of Goa begun a process of decay, and in 1843 the capital was changed to Panaji; the former capital was then in ruins, with only a few churches standing – due to its meanings, the Basilica of Bom Jesus was one of them. In the first half of the 1950’s, facing the independence of India and its claims over the Portuguese India, the great restorer Baltazar Castro was sent to Goa by the Portuguese nationalist dictatorship, to restore the major Goan monuments. As happened in Portugal, the regime intended to use heritage as an ideological propaganda instrument. Among other works, Baltazar Castro restored the Basilica of Bom Jesus, causing a radical change in its image and, at the same time, provoking problems to its conservation. This communication intends to discuss several issues concerning the Basilica of Bom Jesus, such as the construction of an Indo-Portuguese architectural master piece, the development of a colonial rhetoric for the Portuguese India, and the restoration of the basilica according to misunderstood guidelines during the colonial period.

Joaquim Rodrigues dos Santos – Researcher and invited professor at the ARTIS – Institute of Art History, University of Lisbon. Post-doctoral researcher (2014-19) with a project on the safeguarding of Portuguese-influenced heritage in India, within the University of Lisbon, and the Goa University. Santos holds a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Alcalá, Spain (2012), with a thesis on the rehabilitation of medieval fortifications, and a M.Arch. in Architecture, Territory and Memory by the University of Coimbra (2007), with a dissertation about the creation of cultural images that have influenced the restoration of monuments. Graduation in Architecture by the University of Coimbra (2002), and technical specialisation in Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Historical Sites by the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil (2006). Founding member of the Institute for Research and Development, Lusophone University of Cape Verde (2012-13). Coordinator of the research project “Oratorians in Ceylon: Survey of Oratorian churches with Portuguese influence in Sri Lanka”, researcher in the project “The manor house in Portugal, Brazil & Goa: An inside view”, and collaborator in several other projects on cultural heritage and its preservation. Invited editor of “ARTIS – Journal of Art History and Heritage Sciences” (2019-2020), and author or editor of numerous books and scientific articles, including the book “Heritage at the Crossroads: Essays on the Preservation of Goa?s Architectural Treasures”. His main research areas are on the history of cities and architecture, and the preservation and management of built heritage, with a special focus on the Portuguese-influenced transcultural heritage in South Asia.

What to expect from stones exposed to harsh environmental conditions?

All stones are prone to deteriorate when exposed outdoors, but the deterioration patterns, intensity and rates are not similar for every stone, placed anywhere in the building, and located anywhere in the Globe. On the contrary, while situations are found where stones showed to be extremely durable, other situations exist where stones perish very rapidly, and all intermediate conditions can be found. The combination of a high-quality stone with a stable, non-aggressive environment is a sure guarantee that a high-quality stone surface can last a long time, but these combinations are the exception, not the rule. A stone such as laterite, with a very heterogeneous composition, placed on a bare surface exposed to hot and humid environmental conditions, is certainly not one of those favourable situations. A proper study of the stone and the surrounding environment would be a relevant step to understand what is happening and to help support decision making. Regular monitoring of condition state can provide important additional information within a relatively short observation period. When the condition state is such as to affect the stability of the built object, the deteriorated areas have to be addressed to recover the necessary safety level. Consolidation may be considered when the remaining block is still sufficient to fulfil the functional purpose, otherwise a new block is to be inserted in its place. Block replacement is a difficult and very expensive task, and consolidation is rarely a satisfactory alternative, especially when large areas are concerned. When feasible, preventive measures to help reducing the deterioration rates are the best way to go. Rendering of exposed surfaces is one of such measures; renders works as a sacrificial layer and their effectiveness to protect vulnerable building elements has been proven for millennia. Laterite is virtually impossible to consolidate and, when deteriorated, its repair would be an arduous task, only feasible for experienced contractors. Rendering is a trivial traditional operation in the construction industry and is accessible to any trained mason.

José Delgado Rodrigues – Graduated in Geology by University of Coimbra (1967). Specialization in Engineering Geology by National Laboratory of Civil Engineering (LNEC), with the thesis “Rock weathering in Engineering Geology. Application to Portuguese case-studies” (1976). Principal Research Officer of LNEC, with the research programme “Research on rock materials with application to rockfill structures”. President of the LNEC Scientific Council (2001-2004); Invited Professor of New University of Lisbon (2000-2006); Director of the Department of Geotechnique of LNEC (2003-2006); Secretary-General of the International Society for Rock Mechanics (1991-2003); President of the Portuguese Society of Geotechnique (1989-1993); Scientific International Permanent Committee for the Organisation of Congresses on Degradation and Conservation of Stone (1976-2004); Member of the Permanent Scientific Committee of World Monuments Fund Portugal (1994 – present). Acted as invited professor in courses of several universities in Portugal and abroad. Was “mentor researcher” at The Getty Conservation Institute, 2007. Scientific coordinator of the CHARISMA International Course on Stone Conservation (2012, 2013, 2014). Member of the Editorial Board of: “Journal of Cultural Heritage”, “Geotechnical and Geological Engineering”, “Materiales de Construcción”, “International Journal of Architectural Heritage: Conservation, Analysis, and Restoration”, “Restoration of Buildings and Monuments”.

How did a 440 year-old parish church, just outside the city limits of the Mumbai Municipal corporation, get a new lease of life?

The parish churches like other religious structures of the country, especially if they belong to the category of living heritage, rarely come under the purview of officialdom. Governments choose to privilege “national” heritage to foster a sense of pride and identity. With an eye to revenues from tourism, official agencies would favour some sites more than others. The first winds of the heritage movement that went beyond the “ancient monuments” caught a few citizens in Bombay in the 1990s. Maharashtra pioneered the framing of the first heritage laws in 1995. Architects who specialized in conservation of built heritage numbered less than ten. When the parish priest or the “sole trustee” of our local parish church unfolded plans to change the plan of the church by breaking down the side walls of the vaulted sanctuary, alarm bells sounded and conservation architect Vikas Dilaware was called in to give an assessment of the structure. This was in 2002. His report with the line “Your church is older than the Taj Mahal” caught the imagination of the public. What followed was a ten year pendulum swinging ride that involved, the Archdiocesan authorities, parishioners, parish finance committees and the Municipal authorities with its Heritage body. The Church was repaired and “restored” in 2015. It is my submission that collective responses must be engaged with. There lies value in involving local stakeholders and incorporating their memories in any project which seeks to preserve heritage. An interest in heritage both tangible and intangible encourages communities to connect with the past, above all identify with it and feel a sense of ownership and belonging. This interest sustained by historical research and publication, constant enlisting of support from authorities, ecclesiastical and local, ultimately yields results.

Fleur D’Souza – Graduation with History Honours from St. Xavier’s College Mumbai (1977). Bachelors in Education and Masters in History both from the University of Mumbai (1979). Ph.D. in History by the University of Mumbai with the thesis “Thana under the Portuguese (1534-1737): A socio-economic study” (2003). Head of the Department of History at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, from 1996 till 2016, and Vice-Principal of the Arts faculty from 2005 to 2011. In 2014 she was appointed to head the Bachelor of Vocation (B.Voc) in Tourism at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Within a team, she researched, planned and conducted Heritage Walks for the citizens of Mumbai, to celebrate the bicentennial of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai through the year 2004. Invited to be on the Archdiocese of Mumbai?s Heritage Cell (CPPAHPC), she worked with a team on the timeline of the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Bombay in Goregaon, Mumbai. She was a member of the first Academic Council of the Maritime History Society of the Indian Navy (2016-2019) and an executive council member of the Oral History Association of India. She served as academic expert on the team planning a heritage gallery Dharohar for Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders. Her academic interests lie in Maritime History, Community History, Urban and Colonial History and Church history and heritage.


ARTIS – Instituto de História da Arte, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa,9,1632,detalhe.aspx

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