It houses the remains of Spanish missionary St Francis Xavier and attracts lakhs of tourists and the faithful. But the 16th century Old Goa Church complex is at the centre of a war of words between the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and church authorities over allegations of irregularities and vandalism.
A senior ASI official has accused the church in Goa of tampering with protected structures housed in the Old Goa Church complex, a Unesco recognised world heritage site. The ASI official has also blamed the state chief secretary of not acting against the vandalism committed by a priest and a mob that ransacked their premises on January 24 despite complaints.
Superintending archaeologist D Shivanandan V, head of the ASI in Goa, said church authorities had committed so many irregularities at the Old Goa Church complex located around 15 km from Panaji, which is maintained by the ASI.
A mob of 150 people led by a priest had on January 24 barged into the ASI's horticulture office located within the precincts of the historic church complex and asked for the premises to be vacated.
Local parishioners and priests had, on the other hand, alleged that the ASI office space was encroaching on church property.
"When the church has done so many irregularities...they broke walls, made parking spaces. They have also erased many structures, despite notices by the ASI. When they are morally wrong, they cannot criticise the ASI," Shivanandan said days after the incident.
Shivanandan said the ASI office had existed for nearly 30 years and there was no question of encroachment.
"We have had the horticulture office for over 30 years now. The crowd was instigated by church authorities (to trespass into the ASI office). It will not be appreciated," Shivanandan said.
The ASI official also accused the state government of not acting on a criminal complaint filed by the agency with police.
"My DG (director general) wrote to the chief secretary, asking him to act in order to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future...the state government is not doing anything," Shivanandan said.
Repeated efforts for comments from the church authorities were of no avail.
However, the rector of the Bom Jesus Basilica, Fr Savio Baretto in a recent interview to a local newspaper accused the ASI of violating it own norms.
"These are parish priests' quarters but now the ASI has illegally occupied them and carried out renovation in violation of their own norms, including driving nails in the wall," Baretto had said.
Officials at the Old Goa police station confirmed that a complaint had been registered by the ASI about vandalism in their office premises and they were investigating the same.
Built as a formidable city by the Bijapur sultanate, before the advent of the Portuguese, the Old Goa Church complex houses the sacred remains of St Francis Xavier.
The three main churches in the complex, namely, the Se Cathedral, Church of St Francis of Assisi and the Basilico of Bom Jesus, which houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier, are major places of worship.