The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Feast of St. John the Baptist, also known as the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24 every year. Unlike other Saints, the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is one among the few to be celebrated as part of the liturgy. St. John the Baptist is known as the Patron Saint of tailors, shepherds and masons.

At the time of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. On the basis of this account, the Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist by a feast of his nativity on June 24, assigned exactly six months before the nativity of Christ.

The story of St. John the Baptist begins when the Archangel Gabriel appears to an aged Zacharias in the Temple and tells to him that his wife Elizabeth though advanced in age would bear him a son. Since he did not believe what the Angel had said, he was struck with dumbness until the child’s birth.

St. John the Baptist has been described as one living in the wilderness, wearing clothes made of camel’s skin with a leather belt tied around the waist and eating locusts and wild honey. In his public ministry, he was known for attracting large crowds and for proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins. He would also baptize people. St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan when he came to him. Later on, he was imprisoned and then beheaded by the orders of King Herod.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, also known as St. John’s Day, is one of the oldest feasts celebrated by Christians. It is celebrated as a public holiday in some countries with customs varying from location to location. Typical customs may include the gathering of the perennial herb St. John’s Wort, the collection of flowers for floral wreaths. In many places fires are lit on the eve of the nativity of St. John the Baptist, communal bonfires as well as small fires in the home that burn past midnight.

In Goa, the Feast of St. John the Baptist is traditionally celebrated every year on June 24. On the day of the feast, youngsters go from door to door collecting fruits, liquor and gifts. They then offer prayers and jump into the wells and ponds. The youngsters jumping in the well has an interesting account from the Holy Bible associated with it. When Elizabeth was pregnant with John she was visited by Mary, and it is written that when Mary greeted Elizabeth the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy. Newly married couples are also blessed on this occasion.

Besides solo images, St. John the Baptist’s portrait is also found in images of St Catherine of Alexandria and the Madonna and Child images. Whenever, Christ is also in the image, St. John is shown pointing to Him. Portraits show St. John the Baptist clad in Camel’s skin as described in the Scriptures. An important attribute that distinguishes St. John the Baptist is the Lamb (referring to his words about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God”), often lying or standing on a book. Another common attribute is a Cross, sometimes with a banner attached to it. The story of his death is also a popular subject in art.

This illustration of Mary visiting Elizabeth, 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).

St. Anthony

“The sea obeys and fetters break
And lifeless limbs thou dost restore
While treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.”

- Julian of Spires, O.F.M.

The 13th of June is celebrated every year the world over as the feast of the Catholic Church’s most beloved and popular Saint, St. Anthony of Padua. He was one among the great preachers and theologians of his day. There are many legends associated with  St. Anthony. He is known as the Patron Saint of lost and stolen articles.

St. Anthony, was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. At a very young age he joined the Augustinian Order in Lisbon. When he was in Coimbra (Portugal), he was inspired to join the Franciscan Order by the example of a group of five Franciscan Friars who were martyred in Morocco. After joining the Franciscans he went to Morocco to preach. However, he took ill in Morocco. When he was returning to Portugal, the ship that he was travelling in was caught in a storm and he landed in Italy. Since then, he mostly lived his life in Italy and spent his time praying, reading the Scriptures, preaching and doing menial tasks. He died in Padua, Italy on 13th June 1231 after receiving his last sacraments.

St. Anthony was a great preacher. A lot of people were moved by his preaching and also by his way of life. However, despite his efforts not everyone listened. Legend has it that one day as no one was listening to him preach, he went to the river and started preaching to the fish. This got everyone’s attention and a lot of people gathered around him to witness the event. This episode from the life of St. Anthony has also been depicted in art.

St. Anthony has been pictured by artists and sculptors in different ways. The main attributes of St. Anthony are the lily, book (closed or open) and Infant Jesus. As far as the depiction of St. Anthony is concerned, the earliest images show him standing with a closed book in his hand, with the Franciscan  tonsure and wearing the brown Franciscan habit with a hood and the long cord belt with its three knots symbolizing chastity, poverty and obedience to the rule hanging down at the front or side. From the 16th century onwards, Infant Jesus became a part of the iconography of St. Anthony. Initially, the Infant Jesus was placed upon the book that St. Anthony held in his hand and in later images He was shown resting on the arm of St. Anthony. St. Anthony has also been painted preaching to fish, holding a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in front of a mule or preaching in the public square.

The depiction of St. Anthony carrying the Infant Jesus is based on the account of Count Tiso, an Italian Nobleman, who had converted after hearing the preaching of St. Anthony. In 1231, when St. Anthony’s health was deteriorating, Count Tiso and the Friars invited him to reside at the hermitage in Camposampiero. While at the hermitage, the Friars noticed St. Anthony admire a huge Walnut tree in the garden. When Count Tiso was told about this, he had a small tree house built in the Walnut tree for St. Anthony. One night as Count Tiso was passing by the room of St. Anthony, he saw a bright light coming from the room. At first he thought that it was a fire and rushed into the room. But when he entered the room, he saw St. Anthony in ecstasy embracing Baby Jesus. As per the request of the Saint, Count Tiso did not tell anyone about this incident until after the death of St. Anthony.

‘St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and needs to be found.’ This is a popular prayer said to St. Anthony seeking his intercession to find a lost object.

The Holy Trinity

The Sunday following Pentecost is celebrated by the Church as the Trinity Sunday, in honour of the Holy Trinity. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is officially known as the ‘Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity’.

During the first thousand years of Christianity, there was no special feast of the Holy Trinity. The feast of the Holy Trinity was 1st introduced in the 9th century. This feast was inserted in the Calendar of the Church in the 14th century.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is the most profound and central mystery of the Christian faith. The Holy Trinity is the Christian doctrine that God, although one, has from all time existed in three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As far as the depiction in art is concerned, the Holy Trinity has been depicted in various forms. In the Middle Ages, three new ways of depicting the Holy Trinity emerged in the West. They are: (i) The Three Identical Men, (ii) The Throne of Mercy, and, (iii) The Son Sitting at the Right Hand of the Father. Besides these three, various abstract symbols have also been used to depict the Holy Trinity.

This high-relief depiction of the Holy Trinity on marble is from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa and belongs to the early 17th century. The Holy Trinity is depicted amid dense clouds, with the symbols of the Passion and angels with Mannerist features, in a style less rigorous than that used in Portuguese religious painting from the 14th and 15th centuries, which reached India during the following century.

Three figures are shown – the Father, an old man; the already crucified Son; and the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The Father, wearing a closed crown rather than being enthroned while adopting the maternal pose of a Pietá, the positioning and richness of the drapery and several other details of this marble-relief give it an Italian look. An orb – symbol of sovereignty – has been included in this work of art and supports the Son’s feet. The short loincloth with a knot in the front indicates that this is an European piece, given that the finely worked details usually found in images from India Christianized by Portuguese missionaries are absent. The third person in the Holy Trinity, the Dove, looks more like an eagle with outspread wings perching on the shoulder of God the Father. The Holy Trinity is shown surrounded by angels, some of them are holding the various attributes associated with the Passion of Christ in their hands.

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.

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.

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.