Monday, July 6, 2009

QUEPEM CHURCH - Part One (By Walter Menezes)


By: Walter Menezes



More than 183 X 2 days after the three-instalment article, Quepem Church: 183 not out! Should it be pulled down? appeared on Gomantak Times (see issues dated 8-10 May, 2008), Rev. Fr. Mario Vaz, the Parish Priest of Holy Cross Church, Quepem made public on May 24, 2009, the findings of the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art and Heritage. A delegation of the Commission headed by Rev. Fr. Nelson Sequeira had visited the church on a fact-finding mission in the middle of November 2008 and had later submitted its report to the parish priest in January 2009. Fr. Sequeira was accompanied by conservation architect Ketan Nachinolkar, engineer Sylvester Souza and architect Jose Noronha.

But first, a brief background about the church.

The Quepem Church
The Holy Cross Church of Quepem was founded in 1825 by the Cathedral Dean Rev. Jose Paulo da Costa Pereira de Almeida. A chapel in the beginning and filial to the church of Paroda, it was made a parish by provision of 5.2.1833. After repairs the church was re-opened for the worship on 6.7.1889.
Rev. Almeida or ‘Deão’, as he is respectfully known in Quepem even today was born to Faustino da Costa Pereira de Almeida and Margarida Ignacia da Encarnação Netto in the City of Braga in Portugal. He arrived in Goa in 1779 and in 1787 shifted his residence from Old Goa to Quepem and founded a hamlet. He established, at his own expense, a public market, hospital, other facilities and the Church for the benefit of the inhabitants, as inscribed on the pyramidal structure in the churchyard. The Deão died on the 10th of January 1835 and is buried in the Se Cathedral in front of the altar of Nossa Senhora da Dores.

Over a period of time, with the faithful having increased manifold, a move to construct a new church on an adjoining plot was initiated by the then parish priest Rev. Fr. Michael Rebello. The plot in question was however ‘gifted’ by Cabido, trustees of the Deão estate, exclusively for the purpose of constructing a commercial complex. Unlike other churches in Goa, Quepem church has no assets at all and the motive behind the ‘gift’ was to generate the much-needed income for the church. Fr. Rebello’s move, therefore, ran into troubled waters.

Pulse of the People

Last year, from 22nd April to 3rd May, Fr. Vaz, in a fresh attempt, visited each and every ward of the parish to know the ‘pulse’ of the parishioners. In some kind of a referendum, there were three choices before the parishioners: a) should a new church be built at a new site? b) should the old church be demolished and a new church built in its place? and c) should the old church be saved and extensions made?

In the meantime, the GT article was creating ripples in Goa. Fr. Antonio Costa told GT (May 9, 2008): It should be renovated but the original structure, especially the façade, should be kept intact. Heritage activist Percival Noronha was up on his feet. ‘If this church goes down, it will be a big blow to heritage protection in the state,’ he said in another paper (TOI, May 11, 2008).

Margao and Two Churches

Derek Almeida, GT Editor, in a touching editorial (May 28, 2008), against the backdrop of the commencement of restoration work of Telaulim church, wrote, ‘There is something endearing about the churches that dot this tiny state of ours. The elaborate altars painted in gold, the numerous candles, the cherubs, statues, arched windows and wooden roofs are a marvel. These churches have provided material to several writers and photographers and have been the subject of numerous books.’ He further says, ‘Walk into the Holy Spirit Church in Margao and then take a trip to Grace Church, also in Margao and you will begin to appreciate the huge difference between the two.’ The editorial ends up with a message: ‘…the least we can do is think clearly before we sever our architectural links with the past.’

Report of the Commission

And now, for the ‘findings’ of the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art and Heritage:

• The Commission found the Quepem Church of immense ‘architectural value’ and gave the opinion that the same should be preserved.

The church, by the way, was built during the Rococo period, famous for ‘the conchoidal forms sometimes changing into leaves and the leaves into flames’ (José Pereira, Professor Emeritus, Fordham University, NY, while participating in a symposium on ‘Amchem Goem’ in 2004.)

• The four-tiered altar with a cupola, carved of heavy wood and finished in gold, as also the intricate flooring, should be safeguarded.

• Of the other suggestions made by the Commission, one pertains to the reconstruction of the choir-loft. Such an exercise, the Commission felt, would increase the capacity of the church to accommodate another 150 parishioners.

Relics of the ‘barefooted friar’?

• The Commission also disclosed that in one wall of the nave they found a crypt containing the relics of an important dignitary. The inscription on the wooden lid covering the crypt having worn out, identity of this dignitary has become difficult, the Commission has said in its report. throws up an interesting possibility. We are informed that ‘the Deão, Jose Paulo, arrived in Goa in 1779 along with the Archbishop, Dom Frei de Santa Catarina, famously known as the barefooted friar, who died in the Palácio do Deão and whose mortal remains are in the Church of Quepem.’

Food for thought: Could the relics be those of the Archbishop, Dom Frei de Santa Catarina?

As for the result of the ‘referendum’, majority of the parishioners ‘voted’ that the old church should be saved and extensions made.

Percival Noronha and other heritage activists can heave a sigh of relief!

1. The main altar

2. The pelican above an arch in the nave

3. The intricate flooring

4. The central arch

5. The grave of Deão inside Se Cathedral, Old Goa

Pics: by Dale Menezes


(The above article appeared on Gomantak Times, Goa on 3rd and 4th July, 2009)


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