It’s been over 300 years since the remains of St. Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint, have rested in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. And now, after so many years, the iconic silver casket that holds the remains needs restoration. For this, it will have to be taken to Florence, Italy. Sources say that this is to happen soon after the feast of St. Francis Xavier on 3rd December 2018. The restoration will take almost a year to be done and those responsible for protecting the casket say that it should be back before the feast 2019.
St. Francis Xavier’s casket cannot be restored in Goa, says the rector, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Fr Patricio Fernandes
Given that there are restoration experts in Italy, it’s no surprise that this is the place to get the restoration work done. The silver casket holding St. Francis Xavier’s relics is a work of art by Italian Jesuit Marcelo Mastrili, made in the 17th century. The original coffin that he was placed in was a collaboration between Goan and European artisans.
The rector of the Basilica said that this restoration of the casket is of utmost importance as the last one was probably done in 1637. Unfortunately, Goa lacks the expertise to restore the casket, therefore, it has to be sent to Florence, Italy for the same.
Visited by many from all over the world
St. Francis Xavier’s remains have lain in this silver casket for over 300 years. The casket rests in a mausoleum to the right side of the altar at the Basilica de Bom Jesus. People come from near and far to see the relics. The feast of this iconic saint celebrated every year on 3rd December. And every 10 years, the relics are exposed to the public after being taken from the Basilica to the Se Cathedral across the road. This exposition attracts even more pilgrims to Old Goa over the days of the feast than throughout the year.
Unfortunately, over the years the casket has started to show signs of wear and tear. It has oxidized and the oxidization or patina is causing it to develop a green/brown hue. Besides the casket requiring restoration, even the mausoleum needs repairs but this can be done in Goa itself.
Restoring a part of Goa’s heritage
Talk of restoring this iconic monument came about when heritage lovers raised concerns over the state of the mausoleum and the casket. Soon, an Italian team of three experts from Opificio Delle Pietre Dure in Florence flew into Goa and had a look at both during their 5-day tour. Opificio is a Florence-based public institute of the Italian ministry for cultural heritage.
Initially, the rector had brought on the archaeological survey of India (ASI) and Goa Church to inspect and discuss what could be done about this vital piece of Goa’s history and heritage. ASI protects and restores churches, including the Basilica, other edifices and ruins in and around the world heritage complex of Old Goa.
In a 2 page report on the items, it was found that “The all-around decorations of the crowning are unstable and at risk of falling as it is no longer securely anchored.”
The Basilica authorities also 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.