Sunday, January 22, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Secrets behind church facades (by Melvyn Misquita)

Secrets behind church facades

BY MELVYN MISQUITA [Herald] melvyn at

What do mermaids, a two-headed eagle, lions, the mythical Cyclops and a boat have in common? Believe it or not, they all grace the façades of parishes churches in Goa.

To be honest, a casual spectator may find façades of the 158-odd parish churches in Goa nothing more than repetitive white-washed multi-storeyed structures that deserved nothing more than a cursory glance.

That is, until they lay their hands on the recently published book "The Parish Churches of Goa", a study of façade architecture by Jose Lourenco along with photographs by Pantaleao Fernandes.

The 201-page book is packed with exhaustive, yet fascinating, information and pictures on façades of parish churches, right from Agassaim to Veroda and even includes a map of Goa identifying the parish churches for the curious traveller. The book, however, does not include facades of non-parish churches (churches at Old Goa).

The authors begin by briefly describing the various architectural influences of the west and east on church façades in Goa.

The early façades, according to the authors, were the 'peaked gable' façades, relatively unsophisticated late Portuguese Renaissance style, as can be seen in the parish churches such as St Peter (Sao Pedro) and St Lawrence (Agasaim).

The 'Cupoliform' façades, considered a Goan innovation, can be seen in churches such as Our Lady of Immaculate Conception (Moira) and St Cajetan (Assagao).

Other façades include the 'Pozzoan pediment' (such as Holy Spirit, Margao), 'Rococo' (such as St Jerome's Church, Mapusa), 'Templet' (such as Savour of the World church, Loutolim) and 'Neo-Gothic' (such as Our Lady church, Saligao).

A concise description of each parish in Goa is encompassed in a single page, which includes other interesting details such as a brief history of the parish, the feast of its patron (now you don’t have any excuse for missing out on parish feasts of your relatives), the elevation/ inception of the parish, the latest picture of the parish and architectural notes on the facade of the church.

While praising the rich architectural heritage of façades in the parishes churches of Goa, the authors seem pained over the recent unintentional 'distortions' to these façades, which, in their words, "have marred the elegant beauty of these edifices."

Some of these 'distortions' detailed in their book include the installation of metalor plastic sheets to protect doors, windows and belfry openings, concrete porches, back-lit signboards and 'blinded openings', the closure of the oculi (the opening that streams light into the church interiors).

The authors also express anguish over the recent trends to paint church facade in multicolours, a far cry from the "resplendent brilliance" of the white paint of yore, besides pointing to recent trends of introducing fluorescent or sodium vapour lamps on or around façades, aluminium windows and haphazard facade renovations.

A glossary and sketches containing the different elements of the church facade are also a useful addition in the book.

The book is certainly an eye-opener to those who will now admit that facades of churches are much more than repetitive white-washed multi-storeyed structures that deserved nothing more than a cursory glance.

While the book is strongly recommended for the fascinating stories that emerge out of church facades, there is, however, one drawkback -- its price.

Priced at Rs 495, the book is by no means cheap and could well elude the masses, who may miss out on the hidden secrets of church facades. (ENDS)

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