Good Friday

The Friday before Easter Sunday is called Good Friday. On this day, Christians commemorate the passion, crucifixion and the death of Jesus Christ at Calvary. It is observed during the Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum.

There are a lot of theories as to why the day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ is called the ‘Good’ Friday. The most reliable interpretation is that of the antiquated meaning of the word ‘good’ which is ‘holy’.

The Catholic Church regards Good Friday as a day of fasting and abstinence. The Celebration of the Passion of Jesus Christ takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock. Unless a special exemption is granted by the Vatican or the local Bishop, there is no celebration of Mass between the evening of Maundy Thursday and the Easter Vigil. Similarly, crosses, candlesticks and altar cloths are removed from the altar which remains completely bare during these days. The colour of the vestments used on this day is red. Besides the prescribed liturgical service, the Stations of the Cross are prayed in the Church or outside. The bells are not rung on Good Friday and Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil.

There are various things, images, symbols associated with Good Friday. However, the most important symbol is a Cross as it represents the death of Jesus Christ.

From the 17th century onwards, the Crucifixes became an essential presence on Christian Altars. In India, they were much more important than the candlesticks, candelabra or floral decorations. Altar crucifixes vary greatly in the treatment of their components, which may be wooden, often gilt or covered in silver. All the elements come together for a single purpose-to support the image of the crucified Son of God. When not joined with the tabernacles (that also featured on altars), they rested on triangular, square or polygonal bases. From this base rose the Cross, generally Latin, composed of two elements, a long vertical shaft and a shorter crosspiece – the arms. Both the ends of the arms and the upper part of the shaft would have borne decoration indicative of the respective period and style, though always dependant on the way the figure of Christ was represented.

This 18th century altar crucifix from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art is fashioned from painted wood and is embellished by gilt carving and mother-of-pearl. The painted figure of Christ upon this crucifix is made of ivory and is topped by a tablet bearing the customary initials INRI (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). Its loincloth does not have much decoration and is held up on the right, with its ends falling almost to the knees.

Maundy Thursday

The name Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means ‘commandment’ and refers to the command Jesus gave to His disciples at the Last Supper – to love one another as He loved them. Maundy Thursday also known as Passion Thursday, Paschal Thursday is the first day of the Paschal Triduum and occurs during the Holy Week.

Triduum is a Latin word, formed from the Latin prefix tri meaning ‘three’ and the Latin word dies ‘day’. A triduum was originally any prayer recited over the course of three days. It is a three-day period of prayer, usually in preparation for an important feast or in celebration of that feast.

The ‘Paschal Triduum’, the three most solemn days of the liturgical year in the Roman Catholic Church, begins on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and ends with the Easter Vigil.  It commemorates the Paschal Mystery, i.e. the passion, death, burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Although the Liturgical season of Lent ends with the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, the fasting, abstinence and prayers that marked  Lent continues until the noon of Holy Saturday, when preparations for the Easter Vigil begin.

Maundy Thursday services are typically more solemn occasions marked by the shadow of Jesus’ betrayal. While different denominations among the Christians observe Maundy Thursday in their own distinct ways, two important biblical events are the primary focus of Maundy Thursday.

The first event is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper as described in the Holy Bible. The second event is the commemoration of the practice of ceremonial washing of the feet to imitate Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper as a sign of humility and love. Besides these, Maundy Thursday also commemorates the events that took place on the night before the crucifixion of Jesus.

This illustration of the Last Supper is taken from one of the two volumes of the Bible  from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. Both the volumes of the Bible are leather bound with brass clasps while the text is printed on paper. They belong to the 18th century and were donated by Canon Caetano da Cruz Fernandes from Benaulim, Goa.

The text in both the Volumes is in Latin while the illustrations of Biblical scenes are described in six different languages (Greek, English, German, Latin, French and Dutch).

Palm Sunday

The week preceding  Easter Sunday is known as the ‘Holy Week’. It is the last week of Lent and focuses on the commemoration of the important events associated with the last days of Jesus’ life. The Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday (also known as Passion Sunday) and ends on Holy Saturday.

The celebration of Palm Sunday originated in the Church of Jerusalem in around the late 4th century CE. By the 5thcentury, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. It was adopted by the Western Church in the 8th century, and the celebration received the name ‘Palm Sunday’.

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. According to the Gospels, Jesus arrived into the city riding on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street with shouts of “Hosanna” to honour Him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.

Back in those days, as per local custom, the Kings and nobles arriving in processions were to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace and those who rode on them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying down of palm branches indicated that aKing or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph.

Palm Sunday traditions are quite similar to what they have been since the 10th century. Many churches distribute palm branches to the congregation on Palm Sunday. The ceremony begins with the blessing of the palms, a procession carrying the palms follow, and then Mass is celebrated. The colour of the vestments for the day is red.

The palm branch is traditionally a symbol of joy and victory. The blessed palms that remain after being distributed to the congregation are burnt and the ashes are used in the Ash Wednesday services the following Lent.

Figures of Christ represented in scenes from the Passion are an essential part of Christian iconography and often show elements of folk tradition. This is often accentuated by depictions of the prison or the presentation before the jeering mob that called Him the King of the Jews.

Painted on wood, but in relief, this representation of Ecce Homo, from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art belongs to the c.17th century. The figure of Christ with His loose cloak, bound, but not yet crowned King of the Jews, is shown full-length standing on a round pedestal. The figure, which is almost a sculpture, is backed by a painted field of undulating foliage interspersed with simple quatrefoils.

“The Friday of Sorrows”

The Friday before Palm Sunday in the fifth week of Lent, is a solemn remembrance of the Our Lady of Sorrows. This day also known as the ‘Friday of Sorrows’, takes place exactly one week before Good Friday and focuses on the sorrow and pain that the Passion of Jesus Christ caused to his mother.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Our lady of Dolours, Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Our Lady of Piety or Our Lady of the Seven Dolours are the names that Mary is referred to in relation to the sorrows in her life. The 7 sorrows of Our Lady are: (1.) the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple, (2.) the flight into Egypt with the Infant, (3.) the loss of Jesus in Jerusalem when he was a boy of 12, (4.) Mary’s encounter with her divine son on the Via Dolorosa, (5.) the Crucifixion of Jesus, (6.) the taking down of the body of Jesus from the Cross, and, (7.) Burial of Jesus.

The antiquity of the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows can be traced back to the Servite Order founded in 1233 CE, who took up the sorrows of Mary, standing under the Cross, as the principle devotion of their Order. The formal feast of Our Lady of Sorrows originated in 1423 CE, and was designated for the Friday after the 3rd Sunday after Easter. After 1600 CE, it was set for the Friday before Palm Sunday. By a Decree of 22 April 1727 CE, Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the entire Latin Church. In 1913 CE, Pope Pius X moved the feast to September 15. The Feast is still observed on the 15th of September as well as on the Friday before Palm Sunday.

The seven sorrows of Mary is a popular Roman Catholic devotion. Two representations of the sorrowful Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows) are easily confused. The first representation is the one in which the heart of Our Lady is shown pierced by seven swords arranged to form a sort of halo. The second representation shows the heart of Our Lady pierced by just one sword, in relation to the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple of Jerusalem, who foresaw the sorrow that would befall the Mother of the Messaiah. The one that represents the Virgin pierced by seven swords is meant to recall devotion to the seven sorrows of Our Lady.

In common religious Catholic imagery, the Our Lady of Sorrows is portrayed in a mournful state, with seven long knives or daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding.

This 18th century image of Our Lady of Sorrows from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa, is painted on wood in the style of the late 17th century and seeks to dramatically highlight the figure of the Virgin, who is swathed in drapery. The crescent moon, which is usually found in the depiction of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, lies at her feet. The composition emanates a certain naïve Baroque quality in the way in which it depicts her standing with the seven swords piercing her breast – the seven sorrows.

The image is framed with hanging ribbons and flowers in loud colours. Such motifs had appeared more discreetly in 16th century Flemish religious paintings and later, in the mid-17th century, in the works of the Portuguese painter Josefa de Obidos, who adopted floral decoration from the already quite imposing still-lifes produced in Spain. When such motifs found their way to the Orient, the floral frame began to be enriched with long, wide, intensely coloured striped ribbons, giving the composition better emphasis. This practice became common in many of the exotic pieces which were inspired by Portuguese models.

St. Joseph

The 19th of March is celebrated every year by the Roman Catholic Church as the feast of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the foster father of Jesus Christ. St. Joseph was engaged to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the time of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus by Archangel Gabriel.

There is very little information available to us about the life and the death of St. Joseph. As far as the Holy Bible is concerned, the Gospels of St. Mark and St. John do not mention St. Joseph. All that is reliably known of St. Joseph is contained in the first two chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. However, even in these two Gospels, there is nothing much said about St. Joseph after the finding of child Jesus in the Temple.

Devotion to St. Joseph can be traced back to the 4th century, when a feast was celebrated in his honour by the Eastern Coptics. St. Joseph was chosen by St. Teresa of Avila as the Patron of her reform of the Carmelite Order. In 1689, her nuns were granted the privilege of celebrating a feast in honour of St. Joseph. On December 8, 1870, as per the petition of over 300 Prelates gathered at the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX proclaimed St. Joseph as the ‘Patron Saint of the Universal Church’. In 1955, the title, ‘Patron of Workmen’ was added to St. Joseph.

St. Joseph is depicted in various forms. The most common attributes of St. Joseph are a purple robe, brown mantle, staff, lily, child Jesus, and carpentry square. Most of the literary sources for the depiction of St. Joseph in art, are from the Gospel of St. Matthew and the apocryphal writing ‘Protevangelium of James’.

An interesting explanation is found in a passage of the Protevangelium of James for the lily, used as an attribute of St. Joseph. It states that an angel told the priests to call all the widowers to come to the Temple with their rods and that, there would be a sign to show which of the widowers would be chosen to be betrothed to Mary. St. Joseph was chosen when a dove flew out of his rod. In the Golden Legend, a flower grows out of the rod before the dove alights upon it. In later images, the rod develops into a lily stalk, used as the Saint’s attribute. The lily which is a symbol of chastity refers to the Catholic belief that Mary was a virgin throughout her life.

The saint is also pictured in many images related to the birth of Jesus. In the early 16th century, there were also images of the Holy Family, featuring St. Joseph, Mary and child Jesus. The 16th century also saw a change in the portraiture of St. Joseph. Previously, the most common approach had been to show him as an old man – balding, greying, often leaning on a cane. This kind of portrayal started to change and St. Joseph was shown with the typical features of a young man, like a full head of dark hair.

This early 20th century image of St. Joseph is from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. The image is made of ivory while the base on which it stands, is made of wood. It shows St. Joseph standing, holding a staff and carrying baby Jesus in his arms.

On the Way to Calvary

At the end of the Middle Ages, the Catholic faithful began to practice a devotion known as the Way of the Cross or the Stations of the Cross. It began due to the efforts of the Franciscans, who were the custodians of the Holy Land. The Stations of the Cross focus on specific events from the Passion of Jesus Christ, beginning with His condemnation. Either individually or in groups, the faithful make a sort of mini-pilgrimage from one Station to the next meditating upon the Passion of Christ. It is held on all the Fridays of Lent, especially Good Friday. A specific number of Stations are marked either within a Church or in an outdoor setting, each of them bearing a wooden cross accompanied by images. Initially it was never required that the wooden crosses be accompanied by images, but later on it came to be the practice.

Initially, the Way of the Cross comprised of 7 Stations. Since the 17th-20th centuries, a standard set of 14 pictures or sculptures has been widely used depicting the passion, death and the burial of Christ. In some rare cases, the Resurrection of Jesus is included as a 15th Station. Of the 14 Stations of the Cross, only 8 have clear scriptural foundation while the remaining 5 are not specifically found in the Bible.

The earliest use of the word ‘Stations’, with regard to the Stations of the Cross, occurs in the narrative of the English pilgrim William Wey, who visited the Holy Land in the mid 15th century. He described pilgrims following the footsteps of Christ to the Cross. In 1521, a book called Geystlich Strass (meaning ‘spiritual road’ in German) was printed with illustrations of the Stations of the Cross in the Holy Land. In 1862, the Bishops throughout the Church were given the right to erect the Stations in the Churches.

According to tradition, the fourteen sites along the Via Dolorosa where the events of the Stations of the Cross took place, are the inspiration for the Stations of the Cross in many churches today.

This 18th century polychrome and gilt painting on wood, of Christ on the Way to Calvary is from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. It depicts the 4th Station i.e. Christ meets his Blessed Mother while on the way to Calvary. This painting is quite theatrical in the way it depicts Christ turning his face to the observer, away from his own suffering. The houses of Jerusalem can be seen in the background. The event shown in this Station of Jesus meeting with his Mother is not narrated in the Gospels but comes out of pious tradition.

Panel Discussion: In the Shade of the Calpataru

The Museum of Christian Art (MoCA) hosted a panel discussion In the Shade of the ‘Calpataru’ in collaboration with the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vaastu Sangralaya ( CSMVS),Mumbai and Galery Gitanjali, Panjim, Goa on 15th February 2018.

This programme was part of the ‘Itinerant Institute: Metro City Outreach Programme’ organized by CSMVS as part of the ongoing international exhibition India and the World: A History in Nine Stories.

The three main panelists for the evening were

JONATHAN GIL HARRIS – Shakespeare scholar; and author,The First Firangis; Professor of English, Ashoka University, Sonepat

ANEESH PRADHAN – musician; composer; author, Hindustani Music in Colonial Bombay; Director, Underscore Records Pvt. Ltd.

RANJIT HOSKOTE – poet; cultural theorist and curator; author, Confluences: Forgotten Histories from East and West

Speaking in the profoundly confluential ethos of Goa – which is nourished by diverse cultural impulses and boasting a polyglot modernity articulated in Portuguese, Konkani, English and Marathi – Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, Aneesh Pradhan, and Ranjit Hoskote addressed the emergence of experimental literary, musical, and theatrical forms at the cusp of unexpected encounters. Among other figures, the speakers discussed the Rev. Thomas Stephens, the English Jesuit who wrote the Krista Purana in Konkani and Marathi; Kesarbai Kerkar, the renowned vocalist who migrated from Goa to make a seminal contribution to Hindustani classical music in India at large; and Abbe Faria, a Candolim-born monk and scientist who appears in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

India and the World: the meaning of Goa

Look at the map from the perspective of land borders, and India’s
smallest state is an insignificant pinprick of territory tucked away
on a western coastal extremity of the subcontinent. But turn the
prospect around to think of the vast oceans as the main location of
cultural flow, contact and exchanges that they are, and you really
begin to understand the essential importance of entrepots. As Ranjit
Hoskote said earlier this week in Panaji, that switch in outlook is
crucial to understanding Goa’s function over millennia as an important
crucible of “entanglements, exchanges and transfusions”.

Hoskote was hosting an “outreach programme” that is collateral to the
exhibition, ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’, at the
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai. This
collaboration between the host institution, the British Museum in
London and the National Museum in New Delhi brought together hundreds
of objects from the main partners as well as 20 smaller museums and
private collections across India. The Museum of Christian Art in Old
Goa lent its showstopper monstrance in silver, and was the host of the
Panjim event, ‘In the shade of the Calpataru’.

Another of the evening’s speakers, Delhi-based academic Jonathan Gil
Harris reiterated Hoskote’s point that it is important to look at some
of the broader questions of identity, culture and tradition from the
perspective of Goa. He said that this required an acknowledgement that
“all culture is actually conversation, indeed a function of
translation”. This is one of the main themes of his 2015-released
book, ‘The First Firangis: Remarkable Stories of Heroes, Healers,
Charlatans, Courtesans & other Foreigners who Became Indian’. That
book of history is full of examples of transnational characters,
including Garcia da Orta (‘the Hakeem of Bombay and Ahmednagar’),
Thomas Stephens (‘Patri Guru, the Kavi of Rachol’) and Juliana Dias da
Costa (‘the Jagirdar of Jogabai’).

In his individual presentation preceding a panel discussion, Hoskote
spoke about Jose Custodio (Abbe) de Faria, the Candolim-born priest
who achieved significant notoriety in Rome and Lisbon before
intriguing at considerable length in post-revolutionary France in the
late 18th century. That journey from India to Europe is the precise
opposite to what was accomplished by Thomas Stephens in the 16th
century. Gil Harris recounted how the Oxford-educated Englishman wrote
the first printed grammar of any Asian language on Konkani (in 1640),
Arte da Lingoa Canarim, and later the singular Krista Purana in a
unique mixture of Marathi and Konkani that is profoundly influenced by
both Greek classical literature as well as his contemporary, the great
bhakti poet Eknath.

One of India’s leading tabla players, the scholarly Aneesh Pradhan
described the trajectory of Kesarbai Kerkar, who was born into a
devadasi family in Goa in 1892, then shifted to colonial Bombay to
pursue the study of Hindustani music in her teens, and eventually
became such a celebrated exponent that hers was the only Indian voice
included on the gold-plated Voyager Golden Record compilation of great
world music that was sent into space on board the US’ Voyager 1 and 2
spacecraft in 1977. Here too was a story of infinite adaptability and
ambitious transformation, as the girl from Keri became imperious Padma
Bhushan award-winning “Surashree” legend.

Three life stories that played out in markedly different spaces in
varying time periods. Yet, there are deep resonances. One intriguing
suggestion made by Gil Harris was those who carry secrets eventually
drive cultural production. This certainly makes sense with regard to
the spectacular flowering of Goan aesthetics throughout the 19th
century, with its bountiful efflorescence of a new architecture,
music, cuisine and artistic approach that is poised confidently
between East and West. The secret, so to speak, is complexity (which
Hoskote astutely pointed out is another word for complicity). With
political and economic clout, the Goans of the time felt comfortable
expressing the fullness of their identity, some of which had fallen
dormant in the face of overt colonial intolerance.

India is currently lurching through an era of impositions on its
age-old pluralist values. Instead of unity in diversity, the
prevailing mantra appears to be uniformity. In this cultural
strangulation, Goa stands out to continually confound the would-be
homogenizers. Here, the narrow communal calculus winds up with a
bottom line of zero. Here, humanism trumps bigotry almost every time.
It is an increasingly invaluable example for the rest of India and the
world.

Article by Vivek Menezes.

This article first appeared in the Times of India Goa edition on 17th february 2018.

The writer is a photographer and a widely published columnist. The views expressed are personal.

Miraculous Weeping Cross

The Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, Asia’s first and largest Convent, was built between 1606- 1627. The Church of Santa Monica, is joined to the Convent on the Southern side.

The nave of the Church of Santa Monica is divided into two parts: the first makes up the main part of the Church with two side Altars, the Main Altar and the Altar of the Weeping Cross. The second part of the Church (presently the Museum of Christian Art) is separated from the first part by an iron railing.

The Altar or the Chapel of the Weeping Cross is divided into two distinct parts: At the lower part, is the retable. At the upper part, is a verandah, having at its centre the image of Christ on the Cross, after which the Chapel/ Altar is named.

The image of the Crucified Christ on the Altar of the Weeping Cross, initially stood on the choir loft, and is reputed to be miraculous. It is said, that on the 8th of February, 1636, the second Friday of Lent, this image of the Crucified Christ opened its eyes many times as well as its mouth as one who desired to speak while blood was seen flowing from its wounds as though it were living. This event was witnessed by some of the cloistered nuns.

This supernatural event was repeated again on the 12th of February, 1636 in the presence of the Viceroy, the Archbishop, aristocrats and a vast multitude of people. After a thorough inquiry this event was declared as miraculous. Since then, the image is held in great veneration. From 1915 onwards, the feast of this Cross that was initially celebrated on the last Sunday of November, was fixed to the 27th of November.

The Church of Santa Monica (Chapel of the Weeping Cross) has been recently restored by the Museum of Christian Art with the financial assistance from the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Government of Goa.

The Church is open to the public everyday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Getting around in a Palanquin!

Song of the Palanquin Bearers

Lightly, O lightly we bear her along,

She sways like a flower in the wind of our song

She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream

She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.


Gaily, O gaily, we glide and we sing,

We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

Softly, O softly, we bear her along,

She hangs like a star in the dew of our song.


She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,

She falls like a tear from the eye of a bride.

Lightly, O lightly, we glide and we sing,

We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

– by Sarojini Naidu

This poem written by Sarojini Naidu is an ode to palanquin bearers who engaged themselves in humming, chanting, and singing during their treks as a way to break up the monotony of daily transport.

A palanquin is a wheel-less vehicle, consisting of a chair or a ventilated cabin suitable for a single occupant and is carried by at least two porters each in the front and at the back, using wooden rails that pass through brackets on the sides of the chair. The Portuguese word ‘palanquim’ can be traced back to the Sanskrit word ‘palyanka’ meaning ‘bed or couch’. It is known as ‘jiao’ in China, ‘silla’ in Latin America and ‘sedan chair’ in England.

Before the use of the automobiles began in the 17th-18th centuries, palanquins were a desirable mode of transport for the rich and the nobles. It was preferred as those inside did not feel any discomfort from the terrain even when the carriers moved at an irregular pace or ran. It was mostly used by women. Men were allowed to use the palanquin only on certain occasions. Each palanquin, depending on its size, required the use of 2-6 palanquin bearers known as ‘boyees’.

In India, palanquins are mentioned in literature as early as the Ramayana (c.250 BCE). In British India, the palanquins were used as a means of transport by the ruling elite as well as to carry the wounded from the battlefield.

The transport in Goa during the Portuguese period, followed the customs and legislations prevalent in Portugal. In the 17th century, an order from King Felipe II of Portugal prohibited men from using palanquins as they were considered an unmanly mode of transport. However, this ban was not widely observed. The Chief criminal judge, the sick and those over sixty years of age were allowed to use such transport. Prince Augusto de Braganca used this form of transport during his stay in India from December 1871 to March 1872. Even the church had its ‘machila’ for the parish-priest to make his rounds of the village.

This late 19th century sedan chair (machila) from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa was originally from the Saviour of the World Church, Loutolim, Goa. It was used to carry the Priest when he visited the interiors of the village. It is painted in red with golden floral motifs framed in oval shields centered on each panel of the sedan chair, including the doors. The interior of this chair was ventilated by a series of horizontal slats (openings). The wooden shaft that was used to carry the chair, was fixed to the chair by iron struts inserted through the feet. The feet of this sedan chair were shaped like lion’s paws.