The coffin and mausoleum of Saint Francis Xavier are the icons that depict the saint’s incorruptible status. On the day of the feast of Goa’s patron saint today, December 3, we give some detailed information about what houses the holy body of the saint
Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
The relics of Goa’s patron Saint Francis Xavier lie in a coffin enshrined in a silver tomb installed on a marble pedestal on the right as one enters the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The tomb has two distinct parts – the mausoleum, ‘a perfect piece of work in most polished Florentine Art’ as claimed by Pope Pius XII, and the coffin made by Goan silver-smiths sometime between 1636 and 1637. This is a blend of Indian and Italian art with typically Indian filigreed decoration. The pyramidal form of the upper part of the casket resembles Indian ivory coffers or a temple.
It was F X Vaz and professor Reinaldo dos Santos and G Schurhammer who wrote about the Indian character of the silver casket decoration. The beautiful silver casket enclosing the coffin is made of bronze decorated with wrought silver and gold ornamentation in deep relief, with every figure standing out sharply and clearly. There are 32 panels around its sides, representing the important stages of the saint’s eventful life. These include his vision about his future apostolate, a vision about his sister’s prophecy about his fate, him curing a mute and a paralytic in Amanguchi, him praying on a ship during a storm, curing a deaf Japanese national and baptising three Kings in Cochin. The top of the casket has a cross with two angels, one holding a burning heart and the other an inscription which says, ‘Satis est – Domine, Satis est’ (It’s enough Lord, it’s enough).
The mausoleum, the work of celebrated Florentine sculptor, Giovanni Batista Foggini (1653-1737), took ten years to complete. It consists of three parts – the lower one being a rectangular platform of jasper, the middle a symbolic sculpture in white marble with cherubs at the four corners, two angels holding wreaths of flowers and leaves, and the main part standing over the platform of a bluish streaked marble chest which has four bronze panels in bas-relief, depicting with life like fidelity four memorable incidents of St Francis’ life. The mausoleum was a gift from Grand duke Cosimo III, who received a small cushion on which St Francis’ head rested in the coffin for many years. The cushion was gifted to him by a Jesuit Procurator General of Goa Province, Fr Francisco Sarmento who had been to Europe and visited him. Out of gratitude the Grand duke ordered that a magnificent mausoleum of rich Italian marble be made and sent to Goa for the majestic tomb of the saint.
At the base of the tomb on each side there are four bronze panels depicting scenes from the saint’s life. In the first scene, Francis is seen preaching to Moluccas (indigenous inhabitants of the Maluku Islands). Above the panel, there is a bronze medallion with a rising sun on it and two alabaster angels holding it along with a bronze ribbon with the inscription ‘Nox inimica fugat’.
The second scene shows a barefoot Francis baptising the Moluccas with his right hand and holding the crucifix in his left. The medallion shows the sun at its zenith and the angels holding the ribbon with the inscription ‘Ut vitam habeant’.
In the third scene the fighting mountain people of the Moro island attack Francis with arrows and stones; Francis tries to escape by crossing the river with a plank. The medallion shows a lion in a violent storm and the ribbon has the inscription ‘Nihil horum vereor’.
The fourth depicts Francis dying in a hut on the Sancian Island (China), his disciples Antonio and Cristovao and an angel assist him. The medallion shows the setting sun and the ribbon has the inscription ‘Major in occasu’.
Above the quadrangle there is a balustrade of red jasper with white spots. The silver casket rests on this balustrade.