A Hidden Treasure: The Museum of Christian
Iris C F Gomes
The Museum of Christian Art is a pleasure to any aficionado of museums, artefacts and all things to do with history and culture. Located at the world heritage site which boasts of the ruins of St Augustine’s Church, the museum is housed in part of the Convent of St Monica. It is a project of the Archdiocese of Goa, Daman and Diu and was initially by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
The museum is not vast in its collection, with two floors (the ground floor is 350 square metres and the upper floor is 150 square metres) devoted to artefacts, but the items are intriguing and must be given careful study to understand their true value. The antiquities have more to do with Christianity as a religion and its observances rather than being strictly Indo-Portuguese objects of art. There are ornate priestly garments and Bibles, as well as vessels used during Holy Mass, aside from statues, paintings. Indeed, the Church in Goa under the Portuguese rule was wealthy, as can be judged by the gold, silver and ivory artefacts (some embellished with precious stones) showcased in the museum. The workmanship is artistic and intricate and holds your attention as you attempt to study each piece of art from every angle.
Some of the artefacts include a statue of St Stanislaus Koska of the 18th century from the Church of Our Lady of Martyrs, Assolna; a 17th century marble sculpture of the Holy Trinity from Sé Cathedral, which depicts God the Father cradling an adult Jesus with the Holy Spirit as a dove on his shoulder; a portable altar and vessels made of wood, metal and glass of the 19th century which were donated by Francisco Paulino Rodrigues; and a statue of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus made of polychrome on wood and donated by Maureen Ribeiro.
There is a magnificent humeral veil depicting gold embroidery on silk from the 18th century and an intriguing polychrome and gilt embroidered on silk chasuble featuring a pineapple. The pineapple brings to mind a story told by an old priest about native artisans using designs of articles and things familiar to them rather than the conventional Christian symbols of their colonial rulers.
A singular item in the museum is the silver and wood tabernacle and monstrance which has a pelican (the monstrance) atop a sphere (the tabernacle). The pelican feeding its young ones its own blood represents Christ while the sphere represents the world. It is meant to suggest that the partaking of the Holy Sacrament is the way to eternal salvation.
Victor Hugo Gomes of the Goa Chitra Museum in Benaulim was the museum’s first curator when it was situated at the Seminary of Rachol. He took on a painstaking task, creating an inventory of items by visiting different churches in search of objects of historic significance. To his dismay, he found a certain apathy and lack of understanding on the part of those who possessed these antiquities. He did manage to rescue the precious remains of our heritage as best as he could. This attitude that he encountered persists to a large extent and is the reason for the limited number of local people coming to the museum or being aware of it.
When she had finally visited the museum this year (2016) after having lived in Goa for at least 4-5 years, a nun from Chattisgarh remarked, ‘I did not know this museum was in Old Goa even though I’ve been to Old Goa so many times. It was a nice experience, but I think only Christians will be able to understand its true worth.’
Unfortunately, Christian or not, some of the Goan people working in the vicinity and in the shops of the Basilica of Bom Jesus do not know that the Museum of Christian Art exists. People have been directed to the more visible Archaeological Museum of Goa. The tourists know of it only through guide books and there needs to be more publicity about the museum, particularly with regard to its location, to encourage more local people to treasure their cultural and religious heritage.
The museum’s shop and a café help fund its upkeep and donations are welcome. The shop has books on the history, art and culture of Goa and various religious items. You can take home a museum souvenir in the form of an icon, mug or postcards. To book a tour you can contact the curator Natasha Fernandes at +91 832 2285299 or email her at email@example.com. There is a small entry fee and the museum is open on all days from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.