The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a major symbol of Goa (India): it holds the tomb of Saint Francis Xavier, the “Apostle of the East”, and gives a glimpse of the former “Golden Goa” and “Rome of the East”, when Goa was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The basilica was built by Jesuits between 1594 and 1624, and in 1659 it received the saint’s body. In 1759 the Society of Jesus was expelled from all the Portuguese territories, and the Jesuit building was assigned to other institutions. While the basilica was being built, the city of Goa began a process of decay, and in 1843 the capital changed to Panaji; the former capital was already in ruins, with only a few churches, such as the Jesuit basilica, still standing.
This basilica is a paradigmatic case of transcultural heritage, incorporating multiple challenges since its first moments of existence. In the first half of the 1950s, facing the independence of India and its claims over Portuguese India, Baltazar Castro, a well-known restorer, was sent to Goa by the Portuguese nationalist dictatorship. As happened in Portugal, the regime intended to use heritage as an ideological propaganda instrument, and among other works, the Basilica of Bom Jesus was restored, causing a radical change in its image and, at the same time, provoking problems for its conservation.
This paper discusses several issues concerning the Basilica of Bom Jesus: not only the construction of an Indo-Portuguese architectural masterpiece, but also the harsh contemporary debate between those who consider the basilica a colonial symbol, those who reclaim it as a Goan symbol, the heritage lovers who demand the return of the basilica’s pre-restoration shape, those who depend on the (hazardous) touristic commodification, and Goan Catholics who merely wish their temple free of ideological meanings. Issues concerning transculturality and heritage authenticity among different cultures will be also addressed.
Joaquim Rodrigues dos Santos is a researcher and invited professor at the ARTIS – Institute of Art History, School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, Portugal. He was a post-doctoral researcher (2014–19) with a project on the safeguarding of Portuguese-influenced heritage in South Asia, within the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and the Goa University, India. He holds a PhD in Architecture (2012) from the University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, with a thesis on the rehabilitation of medieval fortifications, graduated in Architecture (2004), and M.Arch. in Architecture, Territory and Memory (2002) from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, with a dissertation on the creation of a cultural image of the Portuguese castle, and holds a technical specialisation in Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Historical Sites (2006) from the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil. His main research areas are heritage preservation (especially transcultural heritage) and the history of architecture and cities in Portugal and its former overseas territories.