SFX reliquary to travel to Florence for restoration

OLD GOA: The iconic silver casket that has held the relics of St Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa for over 300 years is set to travel to Florence in Italy for a touch of long-and-much-needed restoration. It will be taken after the saint’s feast on December 3 and will likely return before the feast in 2019.

The casket was designed by Italian Jesuit Marcelo Mastrili in the 17th century, while the original coffin was put together through a collaborative effort of Goan and European artisans.

“It is the casket that needs urgent attention, as the last restoration effort came as far back as 1637,” rector, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Fr Patricio Fernandes said, adding that the restoration cannot be done in situ.

Studios in Florence have the equipment and experts for the work, he said.

Time and neglect have taken a toll, caused reliquary to change colour

The casket with the Spanish saint’s shrunken relics presently lies atop a mausoleum on the right side of the altar in one of Goa’s most popular church. For thousands of local and outstation pilgrims, and tourists from all over the world, the church with its exposed laterite walls, is synonymous with the saint’s relics.

Time and neglect have taken their toll causing the reliquary to change colours. “Oxidization has slightly corroded the silver and the casket has lost its lustre. Patina, or a film of green or brown hue, forms on the surface due to oxidation,” an ASI official said.

The mausoleum with its four artistically carved reliefs also needs conservation, but this can be done in situ. Another Italian, the grand duke of Tuscany is known to have gifted the mausoleum in 1696 and set up in the chapel of St Francis Xavier on November 8, 1698.

The interest in its restoration was triggered a few months ago after some heritage lovers raised concern over its crumbling status.

Soon, an Italian team of three experts from Opificio delle pietre dure in Florence flew into Goa, in May, on a five-day tour. The team, headed by the institute’s director of restoration sector (bronze), inspected both, the mausoleum and silver casket.

Opificio is a Florence-based public institute of the Italian ministry for cultural heritage.

The rector had initially brought on board the archaeological survey of India (ASI) and Goa Church in a bid to work out modalities for the restoration of the vintage piece of art that holds much sentimental value for thousands of devotees and others.

ASI protects and restores churches, including the Basilica, other edifices and ruins in and around the world heritage complex of Old Goa.

The team submitted a two-page report to Basilica officials within a fortnight. “The all-round decorations of the crowning are unstable and at risk of falling as it is no longer securely anchored,” said their report of the casket.

The Basilica authorities next discussed the report with architects, historians, church representatives and others concerned with heritage.

“The casket needs nearly a year’s dedicated work to be restored close to its pristine glory,” Fernandes said, adding that legal work has to be speeded up if the casket has to move after St Xavier’s feast on December 3 for a likely return before the feast in 2019.

The casket with the saint’s relics are taken to Se Cathedral across the complex for an exposition once in 10 years.
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