THE ST. ANNE CHURCH, Where God has failed . . .
by Dom Martin
While some magnificent churches have withstood the chemical trials of time and religious tolerance, others have not. A good many have been wholly or severely damaged in the clouds of war; others through the loom of neglect and decay. The facts are wide open, and the reality continues to bug one’s thought and faith. Is it that God despises some churches and cherishes others? Is the Church of St. Anne one of them? An architectural gem, orphaned by God!
When man instituted religion, he brought God down from His distant abode and worshipped Him inside churches, temples and mosques. Man created a place to meet god. And God was pleased with man’s hospitality. And man continued to identify God in the manner in which he designed the interior and exterior of each place of worship. And so, there have been churches and churches, but no façade of any two churches are architecturally symmetrical. But each, in its own aesthetic right, stands out as a Portrait of God.
Among the portraits of God in Indian baroque, the Church of St. Anne is the only one of its kind, not only in India, but throughout Asia. It is a masterpiece of Indian baroque architecture -- the finest! A similar masterpiece on an even grander scale was the Church and Convent of St. Augustine in Old Goa, of which only a tower stands today. Three other churches built in the same vein in Kerala collapsed, leaving behind neither towers nor niches. One wonders with humble insight, if Indian baroque architecture has anything to do with provoking God’s disapproval, wrath and vengeance. If not, how much more is there to speculate as the shrubbery tends to make inroads into the masonry, opening up cracks and crevices that threaten the church with doom and decay? Is time – through God’s omniscience – on the final lag to bequeath us with another Tower of St. Augustine?
Founded in 1577, the Church of St. Anne of Talaulim (Santana) was declared a National Monument by the erstwhile regime, through Government Protaria No. 1360, dated March 31, 1931. In that year, repairs were carried out at the expense of the State. After the liberation of Goa, the Archaeological survey of India (ASI), upon surveying and assessing its merits, also recommended that the church be declared a national monument. But the official baptism has been pending, following a dispute between the Church and the ASI over the issue of ownership. For reasons of material hierarchy, the Church chooses to differ with the ASI on the precepts governing the National Monuments Act. The monument is now in the custody of the State, which unfortunately, is as helpless as the Church on the matter oF prioritizing a full scale restoration drive. Only ASI has the workshop and the means, being on the sunny side of Divine Providence.
Protection and upkeep of monuments is a national issue and the Church has neither the means nor the expertise. In the eyes of conservation, ownership becomes secondary, immaterial. A church is still a church, assuring the presence of God and worship, regardless of who owns it. The context of ownership is tantamount to a tug of war, tearing God apart. A solemn calm might help activate wisdom and the asking: Is matter greater than God? Or, what does it matter who owns what, as along as the right to glorify God is not guillotined! And if God is the author of the universe, then all things that primarily exist also belong to Him, even if a piece of paper screams the contrary. And so long as a monument is preserved, it is a monument, and its value monumental. Once reduced to rubble, to the same definition is also its market value!
In 1974, after surveying the precarious condition of the roof which physically threatened to bring down the vault, I sounded a worldwide appeal. The effort brought results, but for reasons ungodlike and mystical, the restoration work carried out did not match the funds [which had been placed in the Church committee's coffer]. The funds in the amount of Rs. 93,000/- were to have included the complete restoration of the roof, repairs to the belfry, and the construction of a parochial school. However, the only visible facet of restoration was the roof. [The belfry was never repaired -- only the insidious shrubbery removed.] The rest was singled out [excluded] -- myself as well, being informed of the repairs a year after the funds had been received and exhausted.
In the the days when the bells rang in religious synchronism, the church of St. Anne formed an architectural complex with other churches in Old Goa. It was a city of Gods. Of victorious Gods, of defeated Gods! It was a city where a populace of some 60,000 formed the shadow of one great God. Today, there is no trace of that populace or shadow. In its place are the flickering shadows of pilgrims and tourists. And except for a meager Sunday turnover of faithfuls, the Church of St. Anne is a haven for bats, leaving behind a stifling odor. One respectfully wonders, how the poor saints within can endure the stench. Or what anguish it must be for them to helplessly stand there and listen in the deep of the night to the groans of stress and creaks, as the bulbous roots of the shrubbery force their insidious cult into the masonry!
In addition to the cracks inherited from the shrubbery, there is a nerve-numbing one running through the center of the vault, and another one along the inner wall leading to the left belfry -- all these signs of gravitational stress, silently sounding the final alarm for restoration. In a situation of such dreadful perspective, where the script of destruction is so bold and legible, what is the scope or providence of the Church? To play the tune of ownership, with the virtuoso that Nero did? If the Church has viable and material means to salvage the monument, by all means the same should be put to immediate effect and result. But 23 years of liberation have shown no substantial entries of any such sincere concern, reverence or apprehension. And passing the burden onto the State, to ensure its preservation and maintenance, is like taking a Rolls-Royce to a tinsmith. In comparison to the funds sanctioned to the ASI (an annual expenditure budget of Rs. 40 lakhs for maintaining its list of National Monuments), the State gets a mere Rs. 2 lakhs for safeguarding its own list.
In conclusion, has God really failed or are His representatives giving the impression that He has, by failing in their obligations to Him and to Caesar? The answer rests in what ultimately becomes of the Church of St. Anne. And time is running out. Men can only come up with definite means, bribes or extortions. They cannot move the clock backwards. The imminent is now, happening this very crucial second and expanding with alarming fortitude. If the Church does not step down and hold the clock, not even the devil will. And soon, we shall have another fallen architectural gem on our conscience, testifying to the depth of our nonchalance, inertia and vacuous pride!