Goa's St Roque Church: A perfect example of total heritage conservation

Built as a chapel in the year 1883, the church of St Roque in Tollecanto is the perfect example of conservation of historical, spiritual, architectural, acoustic and soundscape heritage
St Roque Church in Tollecanto
St Roque Church in TollecantoPicture Courtesy: Rohan Fernandes

The beautiful St Roque Church, in Tollecanto, Velim, has a history that goes back over a hundreds years, and what's interesting is that it wasn't always a church, but started off as a chapel.

The chapel of St Roque was constructed in Tollecanto, South Goa, in the year 1883, and almost a century later, in the year 1955, the chapel was raised to the status of a parish church. The new church was called São Roque Igreja, or the St Roque Church, Tollecanto, and over the years, it became an important part of the village.

More recently, in 2020, the front façade of the church collapsed, as a result of which a major portion of the church was in dire need of reconstruction.

In 2020 the front façade of the church collapsed.
In 2020 the front façade of the church collapsed.
St Roque Church in Tollecanto
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THE CONSERVATION TEAM

Before the work of reconstruction could be started, a conservation team was formed, and this was headed by conservation scientist and priest from the Society of Pilar, Goa, Dr Menino Allan SM Peter Tavares, sfx.

One of Dr Tavares' most important roles was to ensure that the original architectural features and original worship ambience of the church would be conserved during the reconstruction process.

From the traditional pulpit to the wooden railings, terracotta balusters, wood panelled trapezoidal false ceilings, acoustically designed-wood panelled wainscot, wood gilded and gold-plated retable in the sanctuary along with wood gilded side altars in the nave, the restored church had all the original elements.

WHAT'S RESTORED

As you walk towards the church, you find the altar symbolically designed, with the stained glass windows on the façade wall displaying ‘St Francis Xavier’, ‘St Roque’, ‘Eucharistic symbols’ and ‘a star’, while the stained glass windows on the road-facing façade wall have images of ‘Mother Mary with Infant Jesus’, ‘St Joseph with infant Jesus’.

During the restoration, the baptismal font, old confessional chair, mural of ‘Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist’ on the wall were also restored.

Here are some interesting facts about the conservation and restoration of the St Roque Church, in Tollecanto, South Goa.

1. A PILGRIM'S MEDITATION LABYRINTH (MAZE)

The front courtyard is designed with pavements merging into a labyrinth, created with rubber-moulded cobbled stones.

Fr Tavares explained that in ancient thought, labyrinth (maze)-walking was meant to correctly orient your body magnetically with the earth's magnet, also enabling spiritual centering, contemplation and prayer if one walks quietly and meditatively along the path of the maze.

He added, “In Christian thought, by the 13th century, a labyrinth was positively understood as a pilgrim’s path to God, strewn with difficulties."

Labyrinth infront of the Church of St Roque
Labyrinth infront of the Church of St Roque

2. SOUNDSCAPED STATIONS OF THE CROSS

The boundary of the church wall is used in a very interesting way. You will find fourteen stations of the Cross, designed and incorporated with soundscape niches, that allow devotees to listen to the audio meditation on the corresponding Station of the Cross.

Soundscaped stations of the cross
Soundscaped stations of the cross

3. BALANCED CARBON CAPTURE GREEN ZONE

Open spaces outside the church are converted into ‘green carbon capture’ zones. Also, the gap between the labyrinth and the pavement are covered with lawn -- keeping it green.

Fr Tavares explained that the courtyard, meant to provide ‘carbon capture zones’, is a healthy design obliging the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

St Roque Church in Tollecanto
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4. PORTICO & BAPTISTRY

The Tollecanto Church formerly had a portico and baptistry-cum-reconciliation chapel. This space was used as a language, music and entrepreneurship school, and was run by Fr Teles, Handmaids of Christ and Maestros Nicholau, Abraham and Josinho.

Interestingly, these spaces had unique illumination features, and were designed with a mix of warm light and sunlight, combining to provide optimal comfort for reading.

St Roque Church in Tollecanto
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5. TERRACOTTA FLOORING

Fr Tavares explains that the flooring of the church is made of terracotta tiles. “Terracotta is naturally resistant to mould and bacteria, and being porous, allows the floor to be breathable like its linking lime-rendered walls. The porous terracotta tiles allow the dampness beneath to evaporate, thus maintaining thermal balance," said Fr Tavares.

St Roque Church in Tollecanto
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6. USE OF LIME RENDERS

You can also find that lime renders have been used. Fr Tavares says that the lime renders and laterite stone assembly aid the walls of the church to breathe like a living organism.

"A provision of a lime putty well, with care taken to maintain the water level in the well, makes it handy to lime wash the church every year, as was done traditionally. The church authorities need to keep this tradition alive,” Fr Tavares added.                      

7. BOARDING BY FR TELESFORE FERNANDES

The first Parish Priest, Fr Telesfore Fernandes, who occupied this presbytery and started the boys' boarding, holds an iconic space in the heart of the villagers.

The boarding produced men of high repute in clerical and civil life, making it the rarest of its kind (at least in Goa), and it is a part of the cultural heritage of the village.

Fr Tavares explained to the group how the old boarding space was now rehabilitated for meaningful -- spiritually and culturally restorative --activities.

St Roque Church, Tollecanto in Goa
St Roque Church, Tollecanto in Goa

The restoration and conservation of St Roque Church aims to bring about in-depth historical, spiritual, architectural, acoustic and soundscape heritage.

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