Religious Arquitecture

Religious Arquitecture

Diu, Guzerate, India

Religious Architecture

In the framing text on Diu mention was made of the relevance of the religious buildings for establishing what was meant to be the Portuguese city between the fortress and the pre-existing Gujarati city. In the following texts on the Franciscan and Jesuit complexes more relevant examples are characterised; the last one is surprising and singular in its compositional structure and effusive decoration – indeed, it is one of the most important items in this volume. Reference must nevertheless be made to the other existent ones, to start by making clear that despite the limited territory and Portuguese demographic presence the Catholic architecture of Diu (consequently, of Portuguese origin) is not restricted to the urban cluster, for we must also include the existence of the Church of Our Lady of Fudam. The limited size of the Catholic community ended up imposing a relatively low number of examples, some of which disappeared in the late 19th century. Noteworthy outside the fortress, are the Church of Our Lady of Hope and the houses of Saint Dominic and Saint John of God, the latter with the Royal Hospital in its charge. An engraving of the Dominican Church of the Mother of God has been preserved, which indicates a modest but interesting building, with a bell tower above the chancel. Evangelisation was understandably always more difficult and less successful in territories dominated by Islam, even when tolerance was established, as in Diu’s case. With the end of Portuguese sovereignty in 1961 and the resulting exit of the few Portuguese still posted there, that community was reduced to a scant few. As a result, only one of the complexes, Saint Paul’s, maintained parochial worship, with its school attended by small children and adolescents of various confessions; the others were adopted for other uses. Besides the Franciscan and Jesuit buildings, inside the city only the Parish Church of Saint Thomas and the Santana Shelter remain, the latter with special historic or architectural relevance. The first Church of Saint Thomas was raised within the fortress in 1536 by initiative of Governor Nuno da Cunha and subsequently disappeared. Gaspar Correia recounts in his Legends of India that it was “placed on the height, very strong – from there artillery could be fired if needed: the walls twenty feet wide, the square turrets open inside, massive until the first artillery floor, and open and mortared, very strong, and above was more artillery”. Nearby the chapels of Saint Martin (founded in 1548 to celebrate the 1546 victory) and Saint James (1623, over a hermitage chapel from the early decades) raised inside the fortress have survived, along with the Misericórdia charity institution put up in 1542 and which collapsed in 1825. Of all these only ruins remain that do not enable a significant characterisation, except for Saint James’s, which maintains all its volumes intact, including the upper border of pinnacles, but without the barrel vault that covered the light single nave and whose extrados would have been exposed. With the chancel at nave level, it presents itself with the scale of a church and not a chapel. As it axially continues the bastion of the same name and with one of the side elevations on the curtain wall that drops to the ocean, it is entered laterally via a gateway effusively decorated in relief, in which a large medallion with the figure of Saint James on horseback stands out. Saint Thomas’s Church was built outside the walls in 1598 by order of Archbishop Friar Aleixo de Menezes and was meant to function as parochial for the city. Set on an isolated hill with its chancel oriented to the west (like all churches in Diu), its front faces the sea, making it the built element with the most impact on the city’s landscape, after the fortress, of course. It imposes by the scale of its two front towers, topped by a decorative structure which contrasts with the nave’s façade, practically unadorned. They are a sort of bell tower steles, extensions of the front face of each of the towers, each simulating a spherical and consequently false capped finish. Particularly relevant is the fact that on the outside the nave’s roof indicates the vault, with a visible and girded extrados, all whitewashed. It is a solution which, besides Saint James’s, recalls churches found in Coramandel, namely those linked to the martyrdom and burial sites of the patron Saint Thomas in Meliapor (Madras), although here the vertical section is much bigger, far from the squatness of those models. But it is actually a solution found in all the churches existing in Diu and which certainly finds justification and more obvious origin in local traditions of construction and expression. For example, tiled roofs are almost non- existent; terraced roofs prevail. Volume-wise, Saint Thomas’s Church thus emerges like an arch, barely overtaken by the towers and by a column of clearly Islamic taste which surges in the middle of the front over the arch, otherwise equal to those topping the towers. For those approaching the island from the east, it outdoes the fortress like a sort of conspicuously white cap and beacon. The interior is entirely bare, largely due to the fact that worship no longer takes place there. Since 1904 it has functioned as an archaeological museum whose collection includes numerous architectural items and engraved stones taken from important city buildings as they fall into decline. The Church of Our Lady of Fudam was also raised as parochial in the village of that name halfway along the seaside coast of the island. We were unable to find any information about the building, which can only be our fault, for given its scale and expression it must have left documental records of its foundation – it cannot fail to have drawn the attention of those interested in these subjects. Its grammar and composition indicate that it must have been erected in the 17th century. The façade is quite unusual, for it is divided into three apparently equal parts; the nave’s façade has the structure of a retable and occupies the space equivalent to that of each of the towers, well launched but finished in an overly contained manner, disproportionate with respect to the whole. This finish otherwise repeats the solution of the counterparts at the city’s Saint Thomas’s Church. Very interesting is the contrast of the simultaneously plain and imposing aspect of the towers with the decorative simplicity and somewhat squat appearance of the central body. Contributing to this is that the latter is only about two-thirds of the towers’ height. Overall there are not enough examples of Diu’s religious architecture to make an appreciation of the whole, establishing relationships and determining specificities, such as the roofs of the naves in open barrel vaults. It nevertheless merits reflection regarding its place in the context of Portuguese/Catholic religious architecture of the Província do Norte of the Estado da Índia, which for reasons of structure and vocation of this work cannot be done here.

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