Foundations of faith

Updated: Jan 22, 2020, 18:20 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

A talk by a historian-architect duo to reveal the splendour of sculptural art and restoration of Thane's St John the Baptist Church, replete with Baroque architecture

In Thane, St John the Baptist Church stands tall as one of the most valuable structures in the state. So, it's no surprise that it echoes the phrase "Ex caelis ad terram", which is Latin for "from the heavens to the Earth." Tomorrow, a talk titled Heaven to Earth by historian Fleur D'souza and Vikas Dilawari, as part of the exhibition Icons of Faith at Chhatrapatti Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya will shed light on its lesser-known history and the process of restoring it.

D'souza says that sculptural art is common in Goa and Vasai. However, on the Island of Bombay, such art at various structures has either been removed, refurbished or redone. She adds, "Not everyone may know that this church was part of the Friary de Santo Antonio and not originally a parish. That's part of the reason why it survived. It was not a destination for parishioners as it was too far."

The altar
The main altar made of wood had been gilded, cleaned and polished. Little restoration was needed for this centrepiece. Marble was added later, in the 1960s. The wooden coffered ceiling was painted, poorly repaired and one could not gauge the materials that were used. The joints had opened in some places, and had rotted. A painstaking process of removing the paint and repairing the joinery followed. The lower three rows on both sides of the sanctuary are in wood panels. The higher rows are in MS plates, which would have replaced the original wooden panels during previous repairs. D'souza shares, "The leakage in the sanctuary had to be taken care of as the wood work is prone to termite attacks".

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A close look at a detail of the stone arch that was painted upon. This has been painstakingly cleaned and the paint removed. Now, it shows exposed stone like it would have originally sat along with door lintels. This has brought a sense of history back to the interiors.

Bell tower

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Before

Guide
After

The original bell tower was where the West verandah stands. This was shifted to the south east side. Its architecture was responsive to the 1990s language, that of being modern. This was in contrast to the heritage church. Efforts were made to blend the tower with minimal intervention, by adding Mangalore-tiled roofs with decorative fascia

Carved woodwork

Guide

The main altar made from old BTC (Burma Teak) was restored in sections only where the wood had chipped off; the rest was polished to its former glory. The main door of the church was carved from scratch by Vasai's Sequeira Brothers.

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An aerial view of the sloping Mangalore-tiled roof and bell tower that faces Talao Pali. The tapering of the structure towards the altar (foreground) depicts the Portuguese influence. Churches were built in a way to ensure that the congregation's focus was on the celebrants serving mass at the main altar.

1582
The year that the structure was built

ON January 23, 6 pm onwards
AT Visitor's Centre Auditorium, CSMVS Museum, Fort.
CALL 22844484
FREE

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