THE CHURCH OF ST. ANNE OF TALAULIM
– An Architectural Gem
By Angelo das Neves-Souza
It has been well said that “buildings that survive from the past are fossils of civilization”. True to this dictum, we Indians and particularly Goans can be proud of the fact that we have extant in our land a monumental edifice in the Church of St. Anne of Talaulim, Ilhas, which, although it finds itself in desperate need of the work of restoration, has, yet, kept itself aloft to this day, as though to let us have a glimpse of our past achievements in the field of architectural art.
Founded in the year 1577, the Church of St. Anne was reconstructed by its Vicar, Monsignor Francisco de Rego (1681-1689) and completed by its successor, Rev. Fr. Antonio Francisco da Cunha in 1695. When the building was coming up, tradition has it that an elderly villager named Bartholomeu Marchon, whose descendants are now settled in Margao and whose epitaph can still be seen in the Church of St. Anne, had a vision of an old lady with a staff in hand and wearing a hat, coming down the neighboring hill who said that the Church was her home and that it was her desire to live there. The very same apparition was seen by another Hindu lady of high status who was gravely ill and was almost in her deathbed. A typical old lady appeared to her and said her name was Anne and that she wished to have a home in that village. She then helped the ailing patient to rise from her bed and made her walk about. The patient miraculously recovered from her grave illness and reported the happenings to the village priest. As it was not hitherto decided upon the choice of a patron saint for the Church, it was immediately agreed to dedicate the Church in honor of St. Anne. The patient who, by now, had fully recovered from her illness, spontaneously embraced Christianity in token of her gratitude to St. Anne. A relief picture depicting the scene of St. Anne with a staff in hand and wearing a hat as seen in the apparition is found displayed high up in the transept in front of the sanctuary.
The Church of St. Anne was declared a National Monument by the erstwhile Portuguese regime on 1st March 1932, and repairs to it were undertaken at state expense. After liberation, the Archaeological Committee appointed by the Government of Goa, Daman and Diu in 1963, on surveying and assessing the merits of the structure, recommended that the Church was worthy of being declared a National Monument. Notwithstanding this fact, the Church found itself consigned to the limbo of forgetfulness despite the untiring and persistent efforts and zeal of its present Vicar, Rev. Fr. Francisco da Horta Ribeiro who, as a last resort, took up the matter with the Lt. Governor, Shri. S. K. Banerji whose enlightened interest in the objects of Art forming part of our national heritage is remarkable and well-known. His Excellency in his turn, literally electrified the Central authorities who promptly sent a team of experts headed by no less a person than the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India., Shri. Deshpande, who made an intensive survey of the merits of the building and it is now learnt on good authority that the Government of India is keen on having the monument protected.
The Church of St. Anne which is cast in the Indian Baroque Architectural style under the expert orientation of the most eminent architects of the time including Rev. Fr. Frias, a son of the village whose collateral descendants have since settled down in Arpora and Candolim of Bardez, is noted for its originality and is greatly influenced by the Church of Our Lady of Grace, generally known as the Convent of St. Augustine in Old Goa of which there now remains only a lone, lofty and somber tower, poignantly rising above the rest of the structures and is the first to capture the gaze of the visitor. Incidentally, this Church of Our Lady of Grace was the most elegant and imposing building in Old Goa during its heydays, of which, in the opinion of some foreign travellers, any European city of the time, could justly be proud of.
The Baroque style of architecture originated in Italy about the year 1600 and later spread over Europe. It is characterized by dynamic lines and masses and the free use of classical motifs.
The plan of the Church of St. Anne is cruciform resembling the Latin Cross with the arms forming the transept and the pedestal, the massive facade. The motifs on the frontispiece are of Western derivation but the way in which they are interpreted reveals a profound influence of the Indian Art. It is a profuse decoration in which the flattened shells introduced into Portugal by French sculptors, the Maneirist pinnacles and balustrades acquire new proportions.
The nave which is fully vaulted has three sections on its lateral walls. The lower section has niches crowned with shells but arc surrounded by geometrical motifs of Hindu Art; the middle section holds tribunes decorated with twisted columns topped by triangular pediments, while the upper section has plain windows in renaissance style which evenly distribute the lighting effect. In this strange monument which is considered as a masterpiece of Indian Baroque Architecture, the western motifs such as the Italian and the French freely commingle with the Indian motifs to produce a stupendous effect as though symbolizing the synthesis of the two civilizations bearing the stamp of Portugal's contribution to world progress.
The lateral walls, particularly of the sanctuary and the arches of the vault are decorated with exquisite stucco work, cast in the form of flowers and other patterns typical of the ancient Indian tapestry and embroidery designs, that lends a charming appearance resembling lace-work in clay.
The survival of this edifice is of prime national importance as it highlights the cultural heritage of not only Goa but also the rest of India, because it is a product of consummate art and skill of Indian craftsmen, inspired by Indian genius that moulded and blended the baroque architectural style so as to lend it an Indian bias and endowed us with a superlatively glorious specimen of Indian Baroque Architecture.
It is said that the three-fold criterion on which to judge the merits of a building is the massiveness of its build, the appropriateness of its purpose and beauty of its structure. The Church of St. Anne is not only found fulfilling this standard but excels it by far in as much as it constitutes the very essence of perfection in art, unrivalled by any of its kind, anywhere in India.
Its fully vaulted nave, its imposing frontispiece, its ornate altars, all tend to leave a visitor at once baffled and overwhelmed as though by the touch of a magic wand. Such is the majesty of this priceless monument that to-day cries aloud for its preservation and up-keep.
Peacefully nestled in lush verdure, at the foot of a green hill among idyllic sylvan surroundings, the Church of St. Anne seems to be overawed by the very exuberance of vegetation over which it lords, as the shrubbery tends to make inroads into the masonry work, opening up cracks and fissures in the walls that threaten it with doom and decay. To this, therefore, there is an urgent need to cry a halt.
In combination with the monumental' structures of Old Goa, the Church of St. Anne is found forming an architectural complex of an enthralling nature, but it is unfortunate that only this Church had been hitherto singled out for merciless exclusion from the badly needed repairs and renovation that have been rightly carried out to the former.
Over the centuries, several authorities on matters architectural have expressed themselves in glowing terms about the history and the architectonic grandeur of the Church of St. Anne and this body of enlightened opinion would suffice to serve as a reward for any outlay that may be involved in the renovation of this unique monument.
As it is, many a tourist who is in the know of things, unmindful of the toil and fatigue involved, makes it a point to wend his way to the Church of St. Anne just to have a glimpse of the object of his admiration. Several tourists have expressed their appreciation and stressed the need for its conservation.
In conclusion, it may be said that posterity would ever be grateful for the benevolent act on the part of the government in rescuing this edifice of national importance from the ravages of time, while art lovers all over will heave a sigh of relief as they have been almost despairing the possible loss of a monument that is worthy of the noblest tradition of history, archaeology and art.
Angelo das Neves-Souza