Ancient relic from Goa has the community abuzz


The 400-year-old Reliquary Monstrance, containing a relic from the life of Christ, travels to the Art Gallery of SA as part of the Treasure Ships exhibition

South Australia is an unusual place to catch a glimpse some of Goa’s priceless artefacts.

Goan settlers in Adelaide were in for a pleasant surprise seeing the Reliquary Monstrance from Goa’s Museum of Christian Art (MCA), said to contain a 2000-year-old thorn from Christ’s crucifixion crown.

Made in Goa about 400 years ago, the Reliquary Monstrance is one of the intriguing relics to arrive in Adelaide for a major new exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In fact, it is already hailed by the Australian media as the art gallery’s “crowning glory”.

This exhibition, titled Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Species, includes 300 outstanding and rarely seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metal ware, paintings, prints, engravings and textiles from both public and private collections in Australia, India, Portugal, Singapore and the United States.

Art objects from two Indian Museums – the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Mumbai and Goa’s MCA – have been loaned to the gallery for the exhibition. All the art objects have been loaned through the National Museum, the nodal agency of the Government of India.

Incidentally, this is the first exhibition in Australia to present the complex artistic and cultural interaction between Europe and Asia from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries – a period known as the Age of Spices.

Other items on display from Goa’s MCA include an incense holder in the shape of a boat, Monstrance painting, Reliquary chest and Infant Jesus, Saviour of the World (17th century).

Commenting on the provenance of the thorn, encased in gold in a glass cylinder as part of the monstrance, Fr Warner D’Souza, visiting for the exhibition from the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum Mumbai, said, “The lines between fact and fiction are blurred, and somewhere between is faith.”

When contacted via email, Natasha Fernandes, curator at Goa’s MCA, said, “It is traditionally believed that this reliquary monstrance, which has great historical and artistic importance and is a State and National treasure, contains the relic – thorn from the Crown of Christ (which must have been brought by the European missionaries to Goa).”

Providing more details of the reliquary monstrance, Fernandes added, “The Reliquary Monstrance (gilt silver on wood, mid-17th century) is carved and engraved reliquary in gilt silver. In place of the lunula for the sacred Host, the centre contains a cylindrical glass reliquary with a thorn from the Crown of Christ.”

Further she described, “The hexagonal three-level base is decorated with plant motifs alternating with crosses and small angels’ heads. On the lowest part is a tablet with the letters of Christ’s trigram. The central pear-shaped joint on the cylindrical shaft is decorated with acanthus leaves and surmounted by two stylised capitals.”

She added, “The receptacle above is oval rather than the usual circular form meant to contain the Host; it is surrounded by gilt silver decoration, with two angels with Indian features at the top, beneath the pinnacle in the form of a cross. Visible also are two bells (Indian influence) that complement the decoration.”

The chance to catch a glimpse of some of Goa’s priceless artefacts has clearly excited the Goan settlers in Adelaide.

Blaise Fernandes, who traces his roots to Merces in North Goa, told Indian Link, “Goa has been the centre of many a key international event or alliance, from centuries ago to more modern times. The highlight of the exhibits from Goa at the Art Gallery once again displays Goa’s contemporaneousness then and now, and its age old connection to the faith originated in the Middle East and nurtured in the heartlands of Europe.”

“The younger natives of Goa should know its value, take keen interest in the history of the land, make all efforts to preserve its culture and save it from turning into a semi-urban slum in the not-so-distant future,” he said.

The exhibition Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Species is on at the Art Gallery of SA until 30 August.