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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Goa village saves 300-yr-old chapel ruins from turning into sewage plant

Today all that remains of the once impressive chapel is the façade and ruins of the walls covered in overgrown plants.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2019 17:12 IST
Gerard de Souza
Gerard de Souza
Hindustan Times, Panaji
The structure in Chimbel village, on the outskirts of Goa’s Panaji, began to fall into ruin after the 1880s when it was confiscated by the then Portuguese government
The structure in Chimbel village, on the outskirts of Goa’s Panaji, began to fall into ruin after the 1880s when it was confiscated by the then Portuguese government (HT Photo)
         

When Nifa Fernandes walks across the thickly overgrown remains of what were once the walls of the Capela de Nossa Senhora do Carmo or Carmelite Chapel, she has memories from her childhood flooding back.

The structure in Chimbel village, on the outskirts of Goa’s Panaji, began to fall into ruin after the 1880s when it was confiscated by the then Portuguese government and converted into an old age home and completely fell apart in 1980 after which it was abandoned completely.

Today all that remains of the once impressive chapel is the façade and ruins of the walls covered in overgrown plants. The land was being eyed by the government for setting up a sewage treatment plant but the villagers had a different idea.

“Right from my childhood, I remember coming with my parents to the Mount Carmel Chapel… We used to light a lot of candles and serve snacks… There was a beautiful big garden with a fountain inside,” a resident of Chimbel, Fernandes recalls.

The villagers came together to reclaim the last green space in their village and develop it into an ‘archaeological park’.

“Chimbel is lacking in many respects. We have lots of issues like garbage, especially on account of the slum colony, we don’t have proper water supply, no proper health centre, no post office, no police station despite the rising crime,” villager Ana Gracias said.

“There is no space remaining for anything in Chimbel anymore either for community service or just a conducive place where people can meet. The chapel is living testimony of the Carmelite and of the village. It is something unique and very, very old. It will give an identity to our village,” Fernandes said.

After several rounds of meetings with Fernando Velho, a conservation architect with the Charles Correa Foundation, the villagers drew up plans for restoring the ruins and making it an easily accessible park.

The plans were presented before the local panchayat, the local MLA and finally the state minister for town and country planning Vijai Sardesai. Initially, their efforts were ignored, but after months of lobbying, Sardesai announced out of the blue that the government had acceded to their request and notified the ruins of the chapel as a heritage site.

“There was a request from the villagers of Chimbel to conserve the ruins and we have taken a decision to notify the area as a heritage site,” Sardesai, who is also deputy chief minister, said.

“It came as a surprise even to us that the government relented somewhat easily. God is looking kindly upon us,” Gracias said.

More than being a symbol of the village, the chapel has a peculiar historical significance—it is the first religious order in Goa to admit local people as Catholic priests.

“The Europeans considered themselves as superior and Indians as inferior. Whereas this congregation known as the Chimbel Carmelites broke the ice and they began local congregation,” Fr Archie Gonsalves, a Carmelite priest, explained.

“For us, it is a very precious place because it is the heritage of the Carmelites. So, we have joined hands with the villagers and conservationists and it has resulted in the safeguarding the place which a year ago would have got completely destroyed and gone into a sewage plant,” Gonsalves said.

For now, the villagers hope to gather the funds and preserve what’s left of a part of their history.

First Published: Jun 27, 2019 17:12 IST

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