ASI to begin restoration of St Francis Xavier’s 400-year-old casket in Goa
Three specialists from Italy had sounded an alarm in 2018 and urged that the casket must be attended to with top priority or else, it would fall apart within the next 10 years.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will begin work from Thursday to restore the four-century old silver casket that houses the mortal remains of Spanish Jesuit St Francis Xavier at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, church authorities said.
The casket that is said to be in a precarious condition was last tended to in the year 1698 has been braving the elements within the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Old Goa that is part of the UNESCO declared heritage complex of what was once the capital of the Portuguese maritime empire and an important trade centre.
Back in 2018 a team of three specialists were dispatched from “Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro di Firenze” (A restoration laboratory in Florence, Italy), who studied the artefacts from May 27 to June 3, 2018 had sounded the alarm and urged that the casket must be attended to with top priority or else, it would fall apart within the next 10 years.
“The ASI Chemical Branch from Aurangabad, who are specialists in conservation, have taken the initiative under the mandate from ASI Dehradun to commence the work to conserve and restore the Mastrillian Casket. The negotiations began long back, ever since ASI Delhi ordered that the treatment be done by their specialists in India. The work will be done at the Basilica itself under strict security and will commence from December 10,” Fr Patricio Fernandes, the Rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, said.
The silver casket dates back to 1624 when, for the first time the mortal remains of the saint were taken away from public view and ensconced in a silver casket and kept atop a specially constructed mausoleum within the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Old Goa.
Fr Marcello Mastrilli, an Italian Jesuit priest who was miraculously revived from near death on two occasions, and who believed it was through St Francis Xavier he was saved, had commissioned the work on the silver casket as a thanksgiving to the saint in 1633. Fr Mastrilli, however, did not live to see the casket being completed after he was killed in Nagasaki in Japan barely months prior to it being readied.
The mortal remains of Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa draws tourists and devotees from around the world. Once in a decade the relics are lowered from the high altar at the mausoleum and placed in a glass casket for viewing as part of an exposition.
Church authorities had earlier insisted that the restoration be done by experts from Italy, who had offered to do the restoration for free, but the Archaeological Survey of India declined permission, instead saying that they would do it themselves with the help of in-house experts.