St. Francis Xavier, Old Goa, and the vacant pedestal . . .

by Dom Martin

 

 

It is a universal fact, sanctified by faith and magnified by curiosity, that the city of Old Goa is synonymous with St. Francis Xavier's name and his sacred remains. Oddly yet, the essence of his immortal significance appears undermined — almost nonexistent — as one enters the historical City of Old Goa.
The average tourist, who is principally led by his curiosity, expects to get a larger than life impression of St Francis Xavier upon descending in Old Goa. Instead, he finds himself awe struck and besieged by the monumental grandeur of several churches and convents, scattered within a convergingly small radius. Eventually, he wends his way into the Bom Jesus Basilica and is mesmerized by the shimmering aura of the Basilica's interior. Further down the aisle, he spots the majesty of the marble mausoleum, atop which rests St Francis Xavier's exquisitely ornate silver casket.

In the face of this material splendor, the tourist's curiosity is essentially sustained by a single electric bulb affixed to the casket, which highlights the saint's weathered profile through a pair of glass panels. From that perspective, his impression of St. Francis Xavier is one, seemingly eclipsed by disappointment and incertitude. It is as if he has traveled all the way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal only to find the entire Taj entombed in silver, and about a square foot of marble highlighted through a glass panel.

On the other hand, were a life- size statue of St. Francis Xavier (see picture) adorned on the now vacant pedestal, the average tourist would at least have acquainted his curiosity with a more conforming impression of St. Francis Xavier before taking the critical stand in front of his elevated casket.

Indeed, there are relevant reading materials that depict St. Francis Xavier's life and work. And there are also a number of guided tours available to tourists upon their arrival at different points in Goa. But these resources and facilities are not the issue here. The issue here pertains to one of essence. Does the city of Old Goa evoke the essence of St. Francis Xavier in a manner consistent with the realization that to Goa and Goans, he is a Spiritual Vanguard and not just a miraculous corpse, laying supine for more than four centuries?

If statues of statesmen and other civic notables can be liberally enforced on the public eye in order to perpetuate the legacy of their stay on earth, then logic would dictate that something is gravely amiss in Old Goa. In that regard, it would appear to be the obligation of the Archaeological Survey of India and of the State, to sanction
and erect a statue of St Francis Xavier in Old Goa, on the very pedestal left vacated since the ouster of Luis de Camoes.

The proposition of having St. Francis Xavier's statue erected on the subject pedestal would have been complex, perhaps even political, if Old Goa was an administrative, commercial and residential city like Panjim. Or it would have been redundant, if the Basilica of Bom Jesus was the only monument in Old Goa; or if St. Francis Xavier was merely an icon held in renowned reverence therein.

In light of the above, it is earnestly hoped that expediency becomes the order of events in realizing this proposition as opposed to it becoming a victim of bureaucratic debates and deadlocks. As for the statue, it should, ideally speaking, be a replica (see picture) of the one situated to the left as one enters the Bom Jesus Basilica. It should be cast in metal, in a size proportionate to the existing pedestal, and treated in black.

In conclusion, one might adequately say that the erstwhile regime had erred in erecting the statue of Luis de Camoes in the religious complex of Old Goa. ln time, however, let it not also be said that this administration had similarly erred in denying St. Francis Xavier his due place on the presently unadorned pedestal. Or worse yet, deliberately erred in allocating the pedestal to an entity other than that of St. Francis Xavier...

 This article appeared in the issue of the Herald dated May 10, 1992