Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa - the silver Gasket of St. Xavier was restored by ASI

The Basilica of Bom Jesus that  is more than 408 years  old is 10 km east of Panaji, in old Goa (Velha Goa)  and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is unique about this Portuguese church is it is  home to the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. Built in the classic forms of architecture introduced by the  Jesuits (Society of Jesus), it has the credit of being the first  Minor Basilica in India and is the most revered by Christians worldwide. This place of worship is open to  public every day except during COVID -19 restrictions. The silver gasket containing the mortal remains of Xavier was in a precarious condition and By  March 2021 the Archaeological Survey of India  successfully undertook the most difficult task of restoring and renovating the Silver gasket with meticulous care and planning  with experts. 

Tomb of Fr. Francis Xavier Bom Jesus Basilica, old Goa,

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa  thousandwonders

Bom Jesus basilica Goa,

richly ornamental Baraque architecture,

Above image: An example of Baroque style common in Europe in the 17th century popularized by Italians..............................

Alexio de Menezes was the archbishop of Goa  when he consecrated the church  in 1605 (construction began in 1594) and  declared  it a  sacred one in the same year. Yet another credit is  this church is one of the finest examples of   Baroque architecture (of Italian origin rich in art work and embellishments; churches in Europe adopted this style) and Portuguese Colonial architecture in India. 

Interior, Bon Jesus Basilica, old Goa,

The church contains the body of St. Francis Xavier, a very close friend of St. Ignatius Loyola with whom he founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and it is one of the criteria for the  world heritage citation.  The mausoleum where the body is kept was designed by the 17th-century Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini who   took ten years to complete it. On the upper level overlooking the tomb is the basilica's art galley with nice religious paintings.  The silver casket containing the holy relics of the saint  was commissioned by  Fr Marcello Mastrilli, a disciple of  Fr. Xavier, in 1633 and is open to public   every ten years during the anniversary of the saint's death. His liturgical feast is 3 December.

Because of long passage of time, the silver gasket had begun to show  signs of aging and way back in 2018 three specialists from Italy from “Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro di Firenze” (A restoration laboratory in Florence, Italy), who examined the artefacts from May 27 to June 3, warned the authorities that 'the casket will  fall apart within 10 years from now if not proper steps are not taken'. In 1698 the gasket was tended when old goa was an important Portuguese colony and a maritime trading center.

It was on 10 December 2020 the ASI Chemical  branch of Aurangabad, Maharashtra   under the mandate of the ASI  had begun the work under the supervision of  Fr Patricio Fernandes, the Rector of the Basilica of  Bom Jesus. In order to work on the silver casket that dates back to 1624 for the first time the mortal remains of the saint were taken away from public view  and kept atop a specially constructed mausoleum within the Basilica of Bom Jesus. 

Bom Jesus basilica Goa, Silver gasket/

In the third week of March 2021  the silver gasket  was restored back to past glory  by the ASI team -  a painstaking work on the 400kg silver gasket. 

It took 3 months for the team to complete the work and it was done exclusively by the ASI  that refused to allow the handling of foreign experts as the need did not arise. 

The teakwood Gasket was  silver plated on a velvet cloth. The tarnished silver, torn velvet cloth, and the old teak wooden gasket  were all properly taken care of after fumigation process  for roughly 40 hrs. 

In the wooden portion, there were no termite activities. Special care was taken with textile experts in consultation with church authorities in choosing the right and durable velvet clothing for the gasket.  

When handling the silver plates numbering 100, each one was numbered and  chemically  treated so that they could be put back in the right place. They used the old silver nails, and also new ones to  fix the gasket - a tedious and careful work, not withstanding the fact it was done under special security protection  considering the silver gasket's religious and antique value.

It was on 19th February 1624 two days later after Francis Xavier was made a saint, the silver Gasket with relics of the saint was taken in a procession to Bom Jesus Basilica from St. Paul College, Old Goa. 

In Oct 2021 second week the Goan govt  put out a GO to open Bom Jesus that was closed due to COVID 19 pandemic. The Basilica attracts pilgrims in lakhs for the Novenas - the feast of Francis Xavier on 3rd December every year. The restoration work on the silver gasket containing the relics was already over. It a double jo for the heritage lovers and the devotees.