Goa’s greatest museum needs our help

The greatest Indian painter of the 20th century was born in Saligao,
but was never happy about it. Francis Newton Souza had suffered a
scarring bout of smallpox at a young age, about which he wrote,
“Better had I died. Would have saved me a lot of trouble. I would not
have had to bear an artist’s tormented soul, create art in a country
that despises her artists and is ignorant about her heritage.”

In that case he was talking generally about India, but most of the
hurt came directly from Goa.

Right until his death in 2003, this spectacularly accomplished artist
revisited his ancestral roots, only to be ignored. When he tried to
donate some masterpieces to his beloved homeland, he was rejected and
humiliated. Now many of those same ignorant people call him “my
favourite artist.”

Souza isn’t an isolated case. Goa has produced an extraordinary string
of amazing artists, but they have always remained almost entirely
unknown amongst their own people. It’s a unique case in the world,
where a highly productive culture purposely devalues its own most
significant achievers. Thus, until it closed recently, the state
museum was easily the worst in the country, displaying almost nothing
noteworthy across multiple fields in which Goan artists and craftsmen
have excelled.

Now there is nothing, with nothing better planned either. To see gems
from the state’s tradition, you need to travel to London or New Delhi.

There are three exceptions to this depressing rule. Subodh Kerkar’s
bravura Museum of Goa (MOG) has championed Goan art from inception.
Many artists of India’s smallest state produced their best work in
response to the opportunity to exhibit in the largest private space in
the country.

Another invaluable service is rendered by Lisbon-headquartered
Fundacao Oriente, which houses the stunning Trindade family archive at
its delegation premises in Panaji. No one should miss the opportunity
to experience the landmark paintings by the ‘Rembrandt of India’
Antonio Xavier Trindade, and, less often, his remarkably talented
daughter Angela. It should be a matter for serious searching
introspection that this Portuguese organization handles (very well) a
cultural responsibility where Goa’s state institutions have
comprehensively failed.

Even compared to these well-intentioned efforts, the Museum of
Christian Art in Old Goa is in a category by itself. An outstanding
labour of love, and single-minded purpose by tireless trustee
Nascimento (Nasci) de Souza, and wonderfully capable curator Natasha
Fernandes, it is the only world class museum in a heritage landscape
brimming over with treasures that usually only deteriorate and get
destroyed as time passes inexorably.

It is true this fine institution is poorly named. The term “Christian
art” is alienating, inadequate and strictly inaccurate. The marvellous
objects in this collection were created from seamless interplay
between East and West, moulded by hands belonging to artisans of every

If you look with open eyes, you will find Krishna, as well as the
Nagadevata, along with Islamic motifs. Thus “Sacred Art” would be
better, and “Museum of Old Goa” even more to the point. But while the
name change is necessary, it would only affect perception. The reality
is already a first-class display of artistry of the highest order:
painting, sculpture, embroidery, ivories, silver. The museum is
absolutely priceless.

In a laundry list of impressive achievements by the tiny team running
this invaluable institution, its willingness and capacity to
collaborate stands out. Over 20 years of its existence, including
moving from its original home in Rachol to the mammoth Santa Monica
convent, it has flourished in partnership with INTACH (The Indian
National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and the Calouste
Gulbenkian Foundation (which is also based in Lisbon).

Both national and state governments have been unstintingly generous in
their support. When then-chief minister Manohar Parrikar came to its
inaugural in Old Goa 15 years ago, he immediately pledged state
support to cover all security costs. That promise has been kept, right
into the present.

Now MOCA has plans to expand and improve, and it needs to bolster its
budget to add to sizable grants already pledged by the Ministry of
Culture in Delhi, and other donors. Given its proven competence, and
precisely because it stands alone in doing vital work to restore,
preserve and showcase Goan artistic genius from across the ages, this
institution clearly merits and deserves unstinting support from
individuals and organizations across the world, but most particularly
from Goa and Goans. Go to the museum, or check its website for how to
support: www.museumofchristianart.com.

This article first appeared in the Times of India Goa edition on 18th Ocotber 2017

Article by Vivek Menezes

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


After many years of intensive painstaking restoration work, the 450 year old Church of Santa Monica will be opened to the public on Friday 10th June 2016. At 4.30 p.m., there will be a Presentation on the works carried out, followed by the formal opening by the Archbishop of Goa.

The 450 year old Church of Santa Monica, a part of the Convent of Santa Monica (Asia’s first and largest Convent) in Old Goa, and a State protected Monument, has been restored by the Museum of Christian Art Goa with financial assistance from the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Government of Goa.

This beautiful church with its exquisite altars, pulpit, miraculous crucifix, statues, paintings and art objects was in desperate need of repair and restoration, and preservation for posterity. The Archdiocese through the Museum of Christian Art Goa sought the technical assistance of the conservation architect, Ketak Nachinolkar and two internationally recognized art restorers, the late Miguel Mateus and Jose Pestana of Portugal to carry out an in-depth study of the state of the church building, its altars, pulpit, statues, and paintings, the extent of deterioration and to draw up a comprehensive restoration project proposal. The proposal was approved by the State Government and provided a grant of Rs. 1.3 crores in two phases and the work entrusted to the conservation architect and the two expert art restorers and their teams.

Restoration work on the building involved complete removal of the cement plaster from the walls, internally and externally and its replacement with the original mud and lime plaster, rebuilding the entire roof whose members were severely damaged the removal of the damaged red cement flooring to reveal the original stone flooring. Removal of the much damaged wooden pulpit revealed the original beautiful carved stone pulpit and the graffito work which surrounded it. The altars needed extensive work as much of the wood work had decayed either due to ingress of moisture or attacked by termites. The statues and paintings all needed a great deal of attention. Original graffito was discovered under layers of lime wash and these have been restored.

The church will now be open to worshipers for veneration at the Miraculous Cross popularly known as the Weeping Cross and to visitors to appreciate the artistic and architectural beauty of the church. The church will also be the venue for sacred music concerts and for temporary art exhibitions organized by the Museum of Christian Art.

Persentation of “A plan for the Reorganisation and Upgradation of the Museum of Christian Art”

The Archbishop’s House, Panjim, on Tuesday 30th. June 2015, was the venue for an excellent Presentation by The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on ” A PLAN FOR THE REORGANIZATION AND UPGRADATION OF THE MUSEUM OF CHRISTIAN ART, GOA”  The proposed reorganization Plan is designed to bring the Museum abreast of the latest International standards of Museuology and Museuography.

The Presentation was well attended by a large number of dignitaries and well wishers of the Museum. Among those present, apart from the host, The Archbishop of Goa, Most Rev Filipe Neri Ferrao, were Professor Eduardo Marcal Grilo, Senior Trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal, Honourable Smt. Alina Saldanha, Minister of Museums, Government of Goa, His Excellency Jorge Oliveira Roza, Ambassador for Portugal in India, Honourable Rui Carvalho Baceira, Consul for Portugal in Goa, Shri Nilesh Cabral, Chairman GTDC, Shri Virendra Kumar, Secretary Museums, Government of Goa, Shri Amey Abhayankar,Director of Tourism, Smt. Radha Bhave, Director of Museums and many other distinguished persons from Government, Commerce and Industry.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal who, apart from INTACH (The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) New Delhi, have been collaborating with the Museum of Christian Art, Goa since its inception over 20 years ago, responded to the Museum’s request for assistance in drawing up a well structured Plan for the reorganization and upgradation of the Museum in keeping with the best practices in Museums globally as well as greatly enhance the visitor’s experience.

The Presentation made by Architect Rita Albergaria of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation followed many months of hard work by a team of Museologists and Architects of the Foundation and the Museum of Christian Art, and a detailed study of the needs of the Museum in all its aspects. The Proposed Plan includes museographic interventions which would help preserve the Museum’s valuable art objects for the future and would include improved show cases as well  as appropriate lighting and humidity. The plan also includes the provision of an elevator to allow access for the disabled to the mezzanine floor -a facility which does not exist at present.

The Presentation was acknowledged by all as being thorough, interesting and embracing all aspects of display, visitor experience and preservation of art objects. Moreover the presentation was of special interest to all, as the proposals applied equally to all other Museum’s desirous of upgradation to current International standards ”

Preparation of Base Documents for care of Christian Art

The Museum of Christian Art, Goa in collaboration with the CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai is organising a five day Workshop on ‘Preparation of Base Documents for care of Christian Art’ in Goa. The Workshop will take place at the Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim from 6th – 10th August, 2013. The workshop is open to functionaries of churches, collections, museums and others.

A review of houses of worship shows that there is an urgent need to arrest the deterioration and ultimate loss of the objects of ecclesiastical art in collections, homes, and parishes. These objects could well be the ones that are even to this day being used in day to day rituals and prayer, like paintings, manuscripts, vestments, chalices, decorative wood, sculptures, relics etc. This workshop will address these concerns and enable the participants to prepare a framework for a series of base documents for the care of Christian art, with special reference to their own collections.

The workshop is being supported by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Museum of Christian Art, Goa and Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangralaya, Mumbai.

The workshop leader is Mr. Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation , Research and Training, CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai and his team of art conservators as part of the Art Conservation Resurgence Project (Phase I).

The workshop is free. There are limited seats and the last date to register is 10th July, 2013.

For further details contact Museum of Christian Art, Goa.

Ph; 0832-2285299. Email: museumofchristianart@gmail.com

International Museum Day @ MOCA 2013

The Museum of Christian Art (MOCA), Old Goa celebrated International Museum Day on 18th May 2013.

On this day, MOCA encouraged the public to visit the Museum by not charging an entry fee.

MOCA also organized various activities for its visitors.

The Seek and Find game @ MOCA gave children an opportunity to observe the art objects on in detail.

The Paper Creation craft activity facilitated by Ms. Milan Khanolkar let the children use newspapers to creatively shape them into baskets and magazine papers were used to make paper jewelry and other trinkets.

Another group of visitors (of different age groups) interested in Working with Threads observed the embroidered textiles at the museum and drew inspiration from some of the motifs to create their needle art on cloth bags. This activity was facilitated by Ms.Aira Mirchandani of Naree Artisans Movement.

The activities for the day ended with a kite flying session for the participants.

Paper creations @ MOCA

Kite Flying @ MOCA

Working with Threads

Needle art

Paper basket

Goa Governor visits Museum of Christian Art

Thursday, 31st January 2013 was another ‘Red Letter’ day for the Museum of Christian Art , Goa with the visit of His Excellency, The Governor of Goa, Bharat Vir Wanchoo and Mrs. Nalini Wanchoo to the Museum in the Santa Monica Convent, Old Goa

Goa Governor visits Museum of Christian ArtThe Governor and Mrs. Wanchoo were received by Vice President, Nascimento de Souza , Members. Fatima Gracias, Maria Fernanda Sousa, Jose Lourenco, Sergio Freitas and Curator Natasha Fernandes of the Museum.

The Governor evinced keen interest in the many exquisitely crafted Christian objects, which besides being of great antiquity value, were perfect examples of a special art form – a symbiosis of two great cultural traditions – Indian and Portuguese.

He took particular note of the richness and uniqueness of the artifacts , the excellent manner in which they were displayed and the high standard of their maintenance and of the Museum in general, endorsing the reputation earned by the Museum as being one of the best maintained in the Country.

The Governor and Mrs Wanchoo also visited the adjoining 400 year old Church of Santa Monica, also known as the Chapel of the Weeping Cross (because of a miraculous Cross venerated by many)- a Church of considerable architectural and historical importance  and which is currently being restored by the Museum of Christian Art with financial assistance from the Government of Goa.

The Governor took particular interest in the work being undertaken on the altars, the pulpit,  statues, paintings and walls and met the Conservation  Architect, Ketak Nachinolkar, Agnelo Fernandes and others carrying out the restoration.

The Governor did the Museum proud by saying that the Museum was a ‘MUST SEE’ for every visitor to Goa

Nascimento de Souza

Vice -President

Museum of Christian Art

Letter to the Editor

The Museum of Christian Art (MOCA) has been very much in the news over the last week and unfortunately there has been an extent of misinformation/incorrect statements appearing in the media. The objective of this note is to set the records right.

Three years prior to the inauguration of the Museum in 1994, Prof. Teotonio R. De Sousa, then Director, Xavier Center of Historical Research had been entrusted to prepare an inventory of the art objects in the churches and main chapels of Goa, which he did so painstakingly with field assistance of Mr Fausto Colaco and Mr Felix Ferrao. Based on this inventory, Ms. Maria Helena Mendes Pinto (Curator of Arte Antiga, Lisbon) and Ms. M.da Conceicao Borges (also of the same Museum) after a round through the churches and chapels made a final selection of the art objects to be displayed in the Museum. It is unfortunate that a few volumes of this inventory have disappeared from the Museum when at Rachol. Mr. Victor Hugo Gomes a Graduate in Fine Arts, not Museology, was appointed as Junior Curator. His main task was to collect the selected objects from the churches and the chapels. He left the services of the Museum around 4 months after the inauguration of the Museum.

We can justifiably say that the Museum has one of the finest catalogues of items on display, in India. The inputs to the catalogue have been culled from the inventory painstakingly produced by qualified Museologists from Gulbenkian and the MOCA and with the support of professional photographers. To say that the Museum has no inventory is displaying total ignorance of fact or deliberate attempt to malign.

Providing security cover for a Museum involves providing security guards and electronic surveillance and the extent of coverage by both depends on the budget available. MOCA had been sanctioned an initial budget of Rs 3 lakhs (or Rs. 25000/- p.m.) by the State Government for meeting the costs of security guards, subsequently increased to Rs 4.5 lakhs in recent years. Within this limited budget only four guards (from a reputable Mumbai security contractor who has several industrial and commercial clients in Goa) could be paid for doing duty at the Museum on a 24-hour basis. It is unfortunate that there was only one guard at the time around the change of shift on the evening of 25th January, a lapse on the part of the security contractor for which explanation has been sought, as our contract with them stipulates that at any given time there would be 2 guards at the Museum.

For the other systems that were put in place the MOCA had to find its own funds. It was able to do so but only to the extent of a CCTV system and a burglar alarm system. The CCTV system was used mainly for surveillance of visitors and it did not have a recording system. Frequent power outages and severe voltage surges often caused damage to the Museum equipment and frequently resulted in erratic functioning and false alarms from the alarm system. Because of this and the risk of a short circuit resulting in fire, a set of keys were kept with the security in charge. Security at the MOCA was provided to prevent theft and burglary. What took place at the MOCA on 25th January was dacoity i.e. armed forceful entry. The cost of provision of armed guards would have been outside our budget.

With regard to insurance cover, it may be noted that when MOCA tried to insure the Museum and its objects, we were informed that there were no schemes in India to insure Museums because of the high and indeterminable antiquity value of the objects and even if it were possible the premium involved would have been extremely high. We were also informed that Government owned and sponsored Museums are not insured but usually function under a sovereign guarantee.

MOCA had no role to play in either receiving or disbursing of funds for setting up the Museum. The Gulbenkian Foundation and INTACH who funded the project handled this between them and on completion handed the Museum to the Museum of Christian Art Society. No funds were provided by either The Gulbenkian Foundation or INTACH to the Museum for its operation. This was solely the responsibility of the Museum of Christian Art Society. A fund collecting arm of the Museum, ‘Amigos de Rachol’ under the chairmanship of Bal Mundkur set out to collect funds through donations for the Museum and advertisements for a souvenir brochure. The ambitious target of collection was not met and we were told by ‘Amigos de Rachol’ that this was because expenses incurred were high. The Museum finally received a sum of Rs 1.6 lakh towards the Corpus fund and copies of the brochure for sale through the museum shop.

In hindsight, it has become clear that the security systems in place were inadequate for this kind of armed assault on the Museum which has resulted in the loss of life of a guard and the loss of 5 precious items of gold. Subsequently the Museum has already taken steps to enhance security in all respects to prevent any repeat attempt at dacoity in its premises.

We appeal to all Heritage lovers to volunteer with funds and services towards the protection of the precious items in the Museum and come forward with constructive suggestions as opposed to virulent attacks on the Committee members who are giving a lot of their time and energy, with no personal gain, for the preservation of Goa’s heritage.

Fr. Avinash Rebelo
Museum of Christian Art
Santa Monica Convent – Old Goa

Museum Week @ MOCA 2011

The Museum of Christian Art at Old Goa (MOCA) recently celebrated Museum Week from the 15th-22nd of May 2011 around International Museum Day.

On this occasion a collection of Holy Pictures and religious memorabilia belonging to the Late Amalia Aida de Santa Rita Vas, and photographs of all the Parish Churches of Goa from the book by Jose Lourenco were on display throughout the week from 15th-22nd May at MOCA.

On 15th May amateur and professional collectors displayed their collections on Collectors’ Day – from 4.00 to 6.00 pm. Daniel D’Souza, Dan Driscoll, Ana Maria Goswami, Karishma Alvares, Earl Lourenco, Mia Marie Lourenco, Kirk Lourenco, Linnet Serrao, Tagore Gracias, Prita and Sunil Sardesai exhibited their ceramic landscapes, religious icons and articles, bronze curios, currency notes, stamps, coins, pencils, frogs souvenirs, spoons, perfume bottles and miniature bottles. The matchbox collection of Late Fernando Carmo de Santa Rita Vas was also displayed. The afternoon was spent interacting with the Collectors and learning about their collections.  This was followed by a Musical Evening at 6.15 pm by Joanne Fernandes – Kingfisher Voice of Goa 2009 who enthralled those present with her Gospel songs.

On 18th May (International Museum Day) MOCA in collaboration with Bookworm hosted full day activity for children. The morning started with the activity ‘Cholta Cholta’ – walking into the past at Holy Hill, Old Goa. The children learnt about architectural styles, art, and history and sketched while they walked. The afternoon was spent listening to a story of a reliquary box in the Museum and then children crafted their own recycled memory boxes to take back home.

The Museum Week concluded on 22nd May with SEQC’s ‘Matters of the Art’ a quiz on Art & Culture conducted by Aniruddha Sen Gupta.

Exhibition of Holy Pictures @ MOCA

Amalia Aida de Santa Rita Vas (1916 – 1988) lived her life quietly and richly. She couldn’t sing a tune, so she whistled hymns like a songbird; she was not married and had no children, so she loved every child she met and welcomed every person she knew; she couldn’t make history, so she made mouthwatering cakes and pancakes; she used no make-up, so her skin was like silk; she was to us, her nephews and nieces and neighbours, a most beautiful and Godly Creature. These ‘holy pictures’ (estampas or santinhos) were to be found in her dog-eared prayer books; but her prayer transcended books and twinkled on us unendingly.

Isabel de Santa Rita Vas

Parish Churches of Goa – Photo Exhibition @ MOCA

The 159 Parish Churches of Goa are a remarkable showcase of architecture. The style of their façades ranges from Neo-Roman Mannerism and Baroque to Art Deco and Modernism. The quest for these photographs shot over the period 2004-05 by engineer-writer José Lourenço and photographer Pantaleao Fernandes took them over hills and rivers, travelling by motorcycle over 3000 km of roads winding through the Goan countryside.

“It wasn’t easy. Sometimes after reaching a church, we would find the paint in bad condition or a feast pandal covering half the facade or some repairs going on. And we had to figure out which was the best time of the year and the day, to get a brightly lit facade. But it was a very fulfilling, educative and glorious experience,” says Lourenço.

These church photos stand as a record of our times, to inspire us with their beauty and strength and to remind us that we are guardians of this heritage that must be preserved for generations to come.

Jose Lourenco