Sunday, 5 February 2012

WHITEWASH, RED STONE AND THE JESUIT HERITAGE

The Society of Jesus has come a long way from the time the first Jesuit missionary had landed on the shores of Goa. Taking an initiative into scholarly work, the Jesuits, right from the start have actively compiled dictionaries/grammars for Konknni as well as other languages. Involving themselves actively in the spread of Christianity, among other things, required the construction of churches and chapels. A new book on the Jesuit-built churches in Goa (thank you, Francisco “Xik” Dias of Dramapur for gifting me your copy!) gives one the impression that throughout the five centuries that the order has been here, the Jesuits have been as busy as the bees.
            Most of the magnificent churches – the brilliant white façade against a lush green background – that we are so used to in any Goan landscape and which we believe to be our cultural heritage, were built by the Jesuits. One of the simplest ways to recognize a church built by the Jesuits is to spot the insignia, IHS, which is displayed in a very prominent place in the church. Listed in this book are nearly 80 churches (and some chapels too) that were built by the Jesuits. Jesuit Heritage in Goa by Savio Rodrigues SJ is a coffee-table book with photographs by Rinald D’Souza SJ and Shannon Pereira SJ.
This book is dedicated to Fr. Moreno de Souza who had immersed himself in researching about Goan churches and whose four volumes in Konknni (Bardezcheo, Saxtticheo (2 Vols.) and Tiswaddecheo Igorzo) are a testament to his scholarly work. In his dedication Savio Rodrigues says, “Fr. Moreno could not wait to see the publication of this book, which has now seen the light of the day, thanks to the insights he shared with us. We gratefully acknowledge his willingness to accompany us on a tour of the churches of Ilhas, just three months before God called him to Himself. His long hours of research, revealing interviews, and finally his books on the churches in Goa have contributed immensely to the publication of this book.”
            This book briefly tries to acquaint the reader with each of the churches that the Jesuits built using history (not exactly the hardcore one), anecdotes and traditional lore. The pages of this book are full of photographs and anybody who needs quick and concise information about a particular church can profitably refer to this book. Though informative, the prose sometimes lacks the delightfulness of a coffee-table book. More revisions could have been certainly welcome. Interesting traditions associated with a particular church could have been woven in the text to make the overall prose more delightful. One just needs to browse through a Mario Cabral e Sa authored coffee-table book on Goa to understand what I am talking about.
             The layout and printing of this book is neatly and artistically done. I must give it to the two photographers who provided the images for this book. There are some stunning pictures in this book and credit should be given to Rinald and Shannon for their dedicated effort. But some of the photos did not capture the beauty and detail of the churches. Like the photos of the detail of the façade of the College of St. Paul bearing the Jesuit monogram (p. 17) and the sanctuary of the Church of Our Lady of Hope (p. 119).
            This book did raise a question in my mind: why did the Jesuits of today feel the need to publish a book about their own heritage? The answer is that, maybe, they want to reclaim their heritage and remind us of their legacy. Due to the Pombaline reforms the Jesuits, along with other religious orders, were driven out of Goa. The Jesuits were the most affected because they possessed enormous amount of property and, as this book has shown, some of the biggest churches were built by them. Though they have lost control over their material property, their intellectual heritage and legacy cannot be forgotten. Perhaps, the Jesuits are trying to assert this point. “Suppressed and expelled centuries ago, some Jesuit legacies refuse to remain repressed. They remain alive in the people. Probably prior to the rock-strong foundations of stone, the Jesuits first built faith-foundations among the people themselves,” Savio Rodrigues says in the opening few lines on the Colva Church.
             One of the most interesting vignettes in this book is the one on the Ponte de Linhares, the bridge that connects Panjim to Ribandar. This is a Jesuit contribution to a secular building. “The Ponte de Linhares was built by the Portuguese Viceroy, Count of Linhares, Dom Miguel de Noronha, between 1632-1633. It was meant to link Panjim with Ribandar and the City of Goa. The Portuguese sought the technical expertise of the Jesuits of the College of Saint Paul (Paulistas) in 1632 to build the massive bridge that was to be the longest in the whole East. The 3,026 metres long bridge was built on alluvial soils after stabilising it with solid trunks of local timber known as zambo,” Savio Rodrigues informs. All this while I was always under the impression that the Portuguese were responsible for the construction of this bridge. A couple of days after reading the book and while travelling on this very bridge, I recall thinking, “Hey, the Jesuits helped!” 
              Another interesting piece of information comes from the Our Lady of Pilar Church, Seraulim: “The Church of Our Lady of Pilar at Seraulim contains a huge side altar dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron of soldiers. The Portuguese royal insignia that rules the altar appears quite striking at first sight. The altar subtly illustrates the rule of the Crown even over the Church.”
            Because the text of this book is very brief and simple, perhaps the same could be used to make small video clips and made accessible to the public on the internet. A tech-savvy person like Fr. Rinald D’Souza could use his expertise.

Jesuit Heritage in Goa, by Savio Rodrigues SJ (Panjim: Goa Jesuits), 2009; pp. 184, Price not mentioned [ISBN: 978-81-906554-0-8]

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: February 6, 2012)

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