Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa

Tucked away in a quiet road near the majestic Basilica of Bom Jesus is Asia’s first and only Museum of Christian Art.

Inaugurated in 1994 by the then President of India, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma, the museum, which has enriched the cultural heritage and history of Goa was originally set up at the Seminary of Rachol in Salcette, Goa.

However, for the convenience of the general public and tourist visitors to Goa and with the support of the Archdiocese of Goa, the Museum of Christian Art was relocated to within the precinct of the Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, in the vicinity of the World Heritage Monuments. Most tourists only visit the World Heritage Monuments, leaving the few tourists that trickle in to the Museum of Christian Art enough space and time to look around.

I join a few tourists who have managed to make it past the World Heritage Monuments and are walking slowly, almost solemnly, toward the Museum of Christian Art. Before we get there however, we pass by the Convent of Santa Monica.

Th Convent of Santa Monica, built in the year 1627, has considerable architectural and historical significance. The Convent was at one time extremely important on account of royal patronage and was known as the Royal Monastery. I dislodge myself from the group and take a look inside. Past a few scaffoldings, I enter a large Church which is in the process of being restored. As I look around, I come upon an old cross hanging in the centre of the Church. I read a faded inscription next to the cross stating that sometime in the 17th century (I forget the date), this cross actually wept blood. Millions of pilgrims came from all across Goa and South India to witness this miracle. Now the cross hangs forlorn and forgotten in an old Church. 

The Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa itself forms the other half of the Church. Thanks to an entrance fee and efforts by the Archdiocese of Goa and the Goa Government, the Museum of Christian Art is much better preserved than the old Church.

The Museum of Christian Art houses a number of beautiful old paintings, sculptures and statues dating back to the early reign of the Portuguese in Goa. However, the Museum of Christian Art is unique in the fact that it houses a selection of objects on display that are the Hindu contribution to Christian Art in Goa and India.

Before visiting the museum, I wasn’t aware that many Hindu artists and artisans were involved in the building and creating of Christian artifacts during the Portuguese colonial rule.

At the time, images and paintings could not be dispatched from Portugal fast enough to meet the rising demand in an increasingly developed Goa. Hence, the Portuguese authorities were forced to use local Hindu artists and artisans to complete this religious work. The permanent requirements of producing images of the myriad of Hindu deities coupled with the existence of hundreds of Hindu temples and shrines in Goa was the shining proof of a well established and highly respected Goan School of Art.

Later, Hindu artists even sold images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and many Christian saints door to door, thus depicting their ability to move from traditional Hindu backgrounds to sophisticated forms of European art steeped in venerable Christian traditions.

The Museum of Christian Art in Goa is thus a unique testimony of the close bonds of interdependence, religious understanding and mutual acceptability between Sacred Christian Art and its traditional Hindu artisans in Goa !

While there is a fair amount of silverware such as crosses, chalices and mass plates, my favourites among the items on display are the richly embroidered priestly gowns and a portable Mass kit for priests who had to travel to distant villages to say mass.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Braganca House in Chandor, Goa – Goa’s Heritage

In the centre of the small, sleepy village of Chandor in south Goa lies a 450 year old sprawling Portuguese mansion named Braganca House. Built in the 16th century by the two Braganca brothers, they divided the large mansion into two parts where the brothers lived with their families. The west wing became the property of the Menezies Bragancas and the east wing of the Pereira Bragancas.

For anyone looking for a peek into the lives of the landed gentry of the Portuguese era, the Braganca House is probably your best bet. From the ceiling tiles hand-painted by Chinese artists, to the oyster shell windows and the exquisite porcelain plates from Macau adorning the walls.

One of the first things that struck me about the interiors was the handcrafted furniture in rose & teakwood. Over 2 centuries ago, Goan carpenters who would come to Braganca House daily to carve, chip and chistle. Their handcrafted work includes intricately carved four-poster beds adorned with the family’s initials and dining chairs that are the exact replica of those, which are now used by Queen Elizabeth in the Buckingham Palace !

While you are in the West Wing of the Braganca House, don’t miss what is widely regarded as the single largest private library in the whole of Goa. 5000 (!!!) books sit on rows and rows of book shelves running alongside the walls. There are Portuguese, English, French and Latin tomes. Shakespeare and Tolstoy sit side by side with the great Classics of Portuguese literature. It is like having the world’s authors next to each other in a single room.

The entire Braganca House has an eerie sense of the melancholic. I later learn that it was in 1962, a year after Goa’s liberation, that the landed Braganca family lost all their lands in the new Goan land reforms. With no compensation from the government, the Braganca family was forced to open the legacy of the Braganca House to the public. Under the contemptuous gaze of the solemn looking ancestral portraits, one gets the feeling that this is not a decision that the Braganca ancestors are completely in agreement with. But then again, maybe it’s just the lack of air that causes my thoughts to wander…

In the East end of the Braganca House, the age of the house and the ravages of time are more apparent. In the ballroom, with its Italian alabaster marble flooring and crystal chandeliers from Venice, the ceiling is damp and peeling in large chunks. But it only requires a little bit of imagination to take me back to the days when the aristocracy of old Portuguese Goa glided elegantly across the marble floor.

Today, the Braganca House serves more as a storage space for old family relics than as a memoir to the Old Portuguese way of life. In the corridor, sit a pair of ancient tombstones belonging to the Braganca ancestors. Dating back to the 1800s, they were suffering damage in the open graveyard and are now protected indoors. In the corridor also lies a palanquin, that was used by the Braganca ancestors as a common mode of transport. The family chapel also houses what is believed to be a single fingernail of the Jesuit saint and patron saint of Goa, St Francis Xavier.

The atmosphere of the Braganca House is one of saudade, the Portuguese word for a feeling of longing for something dear that is now gone. Braganca House represents the last of Goa’s golden era of prosperity.

Perhaps, some day Braganca House will come to represent the future of Goa, where tourist and locals alike will be drawn toward the heritage of Old Portuguese Goa once again…

While there is no charge for visiting the Braganca House, a donation of Rs 100 is a welcome contribution towards it’s upkeep.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

O’ Coqueiro Restaurant Goa

No Couple’s Holiday to Goa is complete without a visit to O’ Coqueiro Bar and Restaurant.

While you have famous Goan restaurants like Brittos on Anjuna beach, Infantaria and Souza Lobos on Calangute beach, O’ Coqueiro is by far one of the most romantic restaurants in the whole of Goa.

O’ Coqueiro (pronounced as o-co-ke-roo) means Coconut tree in Portuguese. The O’ Coqueiro restaurant is housed in a sprawling, old Portuguese-style ancestral bungalow right on the Mapusa – Panaji highway in the small village of Porvorim. Rather plain by day, in the evening the lighting and greenery give it a romantic atmosphere that is hard to describe.

While you can sit in the A/C section called the sala de jhantar (dining hall in Portuguese), we chose a table in the garden under a starlit sky.

When the waiter came to take our order, we immediately chose the house special – Chicken Cafreal (pronounced as kaf-ri-el). A greenish coloured chicken curry, the Chicken Cafreal was first created here at O ‘ Coqueiro, many moons ago. I pick a Goan feni to wash down my meal.

And then the highlight of the evening begins.

We chose Friday to go to O ‘ Coqueiro since that is the day when the legendary Goan mandolin player, Emiliano and his band play at O ‘ Coqueiro. And Emiliano (who is an old family friend of ours) doesn’t disappoint. He belts out a few Goan songs that get the couples around us tapping their feet.

As the food arrives, I cannot wait to tuck in. I first go with Chicken Cafreal and Goan Paav bread. The Chicken Cafreal is a delight, lightly spiced and flavoured with mint and spinach, if I am not mistaken. For my second course, I chose Chicken Cafreal with rice. I am not quite sure which combination is better so I suggest that you try both!

For desert, we order the Bebinca, a traditional Goan layered cake that takes hours to bake because it is cooked one layer at a time. The Bebinca is good but I still maintain that the best Bebinca I’ve tasted is made in a small bakery in Fontainhas.

As we finish desert, Emiliano strikes up the music and a few couples venture out onto the dance floor. An old couple catches my eye. They must be married over 40 years yet the glimmer of love in their eyes is unmistakeable.

I only hope that I am that lucky in love…

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Emiliano plays every Friday at O’ Coqueiro Bar and Restaurant in Alto Porvorim, Bardez, Goa. Please check local listings before going to avoid disappointment.