Church of Saint John the Baptist (old Church of Santo António)

Church of Saint John the Baptist (old Church of Santo António)

Thane [Taná/Tane], Mumbai Metropolitan Area (Bombay), India

Religious Architecture

The original house pertaining to the Franciscans in Thane was founded between 1580 and 1582. Dedicated to Saint Anthony, the convent was built next to a sacred reservoir around which stood a number of Hindu temples. A late 19th century English source said those temples had been dismantled and some of their stones used to build the convent. Tradition holds that four Franciscan friars were martyred here in about 1320. The Convent of Saint Anthony of Thane could house up to 15 friars by around 1634. After the Daugim Convent in Goa, it was the biggest teaching centre of the Province of the Mother of God. By around 1726 the convent’s library contained 255 volumes. The Marathas began their siege of the Thane citadel before dawn on 6 April 1737 and destroyed all the neighbouring religious buildings except for the Franciscan convent. Thane Fort surrendered on 8 April. Saint Anthony’s Convent was the only religious structure in the city which survived the Maratha attack intact, perhaps because it was located farther from the fort and the river. Native clergy from Goa later reoccupied the church and rededicated it (after Saint John the Baptist, the invocation of a former parish church in the city). The Franciscan missionary Friar Leandro da Madre de Deus was able to return to Thane in about 1769 and the Marathas then allowed the Franciscans to reoccupy the convent. At the time, the parish counted nearly 4,000 Christians. The last Franciscan vicar of Thane, Friar Luiz de Santa Teresa, died in 1776. In the early 19th century the church was once again administered by clergy from Goa. The church was very recently refaced with a modern ‘skin’ that replaced the south main façade, added the attached tower and substituted the east side façade and part of the west side, besides putting up a building around the apse. Inside, however, the old building remains nearly intact. A photo of the exterior published in 1925 shows that Saint Anthony’s had a tower backing onto the west side of the chancel, like many Franciscan convent churches, and a towerless front façade with a large galilee resembling the one at Saint Anthony’s in Vasai, albeit with a tile-roofed veranda justified by the church’s elevated position overlooking the lake to the south. The cross that stood in front of the church until the early 20th century bore the engraved date of either 1605 or 1609. A still existing side door which once gave onto the convent building (situated to the west but which disappeared at an undetermined date) bears the engraved date 1666; another has 1707, while on the main façade the date 1725 appeared. This, along with the style of the architectural mouldings, altars and pulpits, helps us date the essential work on the old church and its original furnishings: between 1605 or 1609 (probable date of the single-naved wall frame with tile roof and chancel with coffered barrel vault) and 1725, the date when the construction and the magnificent high and side altars and pulpit were completed. A 1906 intervention was also recorded, involving installation of the ceramic flooring visible nowadays in the church, modernisation of the bays (and probably the façade) in Gothic style and the wooden ceiling which is still in place.

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