Monday, 11 July 2011

“WE HAVE NOT ABANDONED THE OLD CHURCH”



For many of us, the steep climb to the spring at Rivona and later the frolic at the spring itself has always been a memorable experience, prompting everyone to ‘chill-out’ time and again. But every time we may have made a trip there, a small church at the start of the climb to the spring may have gone unnoticed. Even if it was indeed noted, at best it was just a perfunctory glance which soon was forgotten. The church looks like a chapel owing to its size. A brief visit to this church first and conversing with the parish priest, two days later, revealed a great deal about the efforts of the villagers to preserve the church and also the problems they are facing at present.
            The Our Lady of Rosary Church was actually a chapel in the beginning. The Archdiocese Directory of Goa and Daman, 2006 informs us that, “The chapel of Rivona was built in 1890 and affiliated to the church of Tilamola [or Tilamol]. Rivona became a separate parish by the Provision of April 1, 1940. Since 1952 it has been entrusted to the pastoral care of the members of the Society of Pilar.” Years later when the congregation grew in number, the old church became inadequate. The present Our Lady of Rosary church, a kilometer or so away, was opened to the faithful in 1962.
             The old church fell to neglect. It was the desire of the parishioners to preserve it as many had intimate memories of the church. Many parishioners wanted to come and offer prayers as this was the place where they received their holy sacraments. Their efforts bore fruits and in 2008, the church was renovated. But will mere renovation guarantee that a church which is not frequently used not fall prey to neglect again?
The pulpit
            I put forth my fears before Fr. Aurelio Rodrigues. He assured me that once every week a mass is celebrated in the church and during the Lenten season, the cross which stands tall in the chancel area is taken in procession to the new church and later brought back to its original place. “We have not abandoned the old church,” Fr. Aurelio said.
            Although the efforts of the parishioners of Rivona are laudable and the small step that they have taken is definitely in the right direction, I do feel that there are many areas that still can be improved upon.
            A wooden balustrade in the unassuming church divides the chancel from the rest of the body. In front of the main wooden altar lies the cross – the one which is taken out in solemn procession every Lenten season. The efforts to restore the wooden altar must be commended. But many improvements could have been made over the simple varnish and paint job. Perhaps, the good offices of the Archbishop could step in and along with experts ensure that proper and scientific restoration of the wooden altar is done.
It is pertinent to note that the altar pieces in many of the Goan as well as Daman churches are not a cut-copy-paste affair from Europe; they have been enriched by native ingenuity and design and hence are very important entities of our history. Though neglected in the past, these altars have caught the attention of the scholars who now try to understand them in new and proper historical perspectives.
            The wooden pulpit has also undergone some form of restoration. But this has been haphazard. Whatever artwork existed has been painted over with a coat of pink distemper. The flooring of the church is well kept. A small porch at the entrance seems to be a later addition and looks shabby. Some parts of the façade too need to be repaired.
            While visiting the church, I was accompanied by my father and another fellow Quepemkar Ivor Gomes, whose innovative design to enlarge the nearby Quepem church was featured in Gomantak Times as one of the “10 Ideas That Rocked” Goa (GT: 28.12.2009). On our way back and over a cup of tea, we discussed the heritage potential of the small church owing to its proximity to the famous Rivona zhor (spring). It could well become a stopover that showcases the history and culture of Rivonkars.
When questioned, Fr. Aurelio Rodrigues mentioned that there was space crunch to build a compound wall around the church. But lack of space to build a compound wall should not – ideally – come in the way to give the church a facelift. Fr. Aurelio also cautioned, “The zhor is private property. Visitors dirty the place by littering. If this continues, the owner may one day restrict access to the spring.”
The architecture of churches in Goa does not in any way ape that of Portugal or Europe. It has emerged from the interaction of (to use a cliché) the East and the West. Native Goa and Europe and/or Middle East. Upon closer scrutiny, one finds in these churches a distinct expression of its own which can assist people to approach and interpret their own history and culture.
Fr. Aurelio Rodrigues
             While commending the efforts of the priests of Rivona as well as the lay parishioners for preserving their slice of history, it is my humble hope that wisdom be showered on all of us so that anachronistic ways of looking at architectural history may soon be history.

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: July 12, 2011)

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