The restoration of the casket with the relics of Saint Francis Xavier begins in Goa
by Nirmala Carvalho

The Archaeological Service of India (ASI) will begin restoration work on the Mastrillian Casket on 10 December. The latter contains the relics of the saint. The ASI Chemical Branch of Aurangabad, which specialises in conservation, is set to work with a mandate from ASI Dehradun.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will begin work to restore the Mastrillian Casket, which contains the relics of St Francis Xavier, starting on 10 December, said Fr Patricio Fernandes, SJ, Rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. The Basilica will thus be closed for visitors on Thursday after the 8 am Mass.

The Silver Casket containing the relics of St Francis Xavier was brought in procession from St Paul's College on 19 February 1624 to the Basilica of Bom Jesus two years after he was declared saint and patron of Goa.

Fr Marcello Mastrilli, who miraculously revived from death through the intercession of St Francis Xavier, came to Goa in December 1635 on his way to Japan. Upon seeing the Silver Casket, he ordered a new silver covering for the coffin, which was completed by 2 December 1637, in time for the saint’s feast day.

The Mausoleum was placed in St Francis Xavier Chapel on 8 November 1698 and the Mastrillian Casket was placed on top of it. Because of the special attraction that year, thousands of pilgrims flocked to the feast on 3 December 1698. Since then, nothing much is documented about the conservation or restoration of the Mastrillian Casket.

Thanks to the efforts and initiatives of Fr Fernandes, a process to protect the monuments was initiated by his friend's Italian connection through Guala Closures. A team of three specialists from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro of Florence were brought in. They studied the artefacts from 27 May through 3 June 2018. They said that the casket must be attended to as a top priority or it would fall apart within the next 10 years.

With a mandate from ASI Dehradun, the ASI Chemical Branch from Aurangabad, who are specialists in conservation, took the initiative and began 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, starting on 10 December. The Basilica will thus be closed for visitors on Thursday after the 8 am Mass.

Last year, the Rector of Bom Jesus Basilica wrote a stinging letter to the head of the Goa Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), about the latter’s utter negligence during repair work at the Basilica, leading to considerable damage during the recent pre-monsoon rains.

The rector, Fr Patricio Fernandes, has accused the ASI of “colossal negligence, incompetence and inefficiency”. The ASI – a government body charged with the protection, preservation and conservation of national monuments – has caused damage to the church building, which could lead to further deterioration.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Fernandes said that three years ago the Church invited experts from Italy to visit the basilica and offer their advice on the casket's restoration.

“They came to Basilica, stayed and survey for five days and did a detailed study and gave feedback of what needed to be done for the Mausoleum. Later they proposed that they, the Italian experts, would come every summer and work on it,” the priest said.

“Afterward they suggested that we send the casket to Florence, Italy, for one year and they would do it for free, without charge; we only had to transport the casket and get all the permissions,” he added.

However, although the Goa office of the ASI gave its permission, they were overruled by the national office in New Delhi, who said the restoration must be done in India.

This was supposed to begin in December 2018, but nothing has been done, Fr Fernandes lamented. “The casket has been at the church since 1637. It has remained the same since the year 1637,” Fr Fernandes noted.