The relic state

St Francis Xavier and the politics of ritual in Portuguese India

Author: Pamila Gupta

This book is a study of the complex nature of colonial and missionary power in Portuguese India. Written as a historical ethnography, it explores the evolving shape of a series of Catholic festivals that took place in Goa throughout the duration of Portuguese colonial rule in India (1510-1961), and for which the centrepiece was the “incorrupt” corpse of São Francisco Xavier, a (Spanish Basque) Jesuit missionary (1506–1552)-turned-saint (1622). Using distinct genres of source materials produced over the long duree of Portuguese colonialism in India (Xaverian biographies, European travelogues, royal decrees and Jesuit letters, a state commissioned book dedicated to Xavier, Goa guidebooks, newspaper articles, and medical reports), the book documents the historical and visual transformation of Xavier’s corporeal ritualization in death from a small-scale religious feast arranged by Jesuit missionaries (1554), into an elaborate celebration of Xavier’s canonization organized jointly by church and state (1624), and finally, into a series of “Solemn Expositions” designed by colonial officials at regular centenary intervals (1782, 1859, 1952), including the last colonial exposition of 1961 staged amidst Goa’s liberation and integration into postcolonial India. These six ritual “events”, staged at critical junctures (1554, 1624, 1782, 1859, 1952, 1961), and always centered on Xavier’s biography and corpse, provide the conceptual framework for individual chapters of the book.

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