The narrative of St. Augustine Tower is etched with remarkable highs and profound declines, shaped by historical events and mysteries that continue to intrigue.
From Augustinians to Misericordia:
After the Augustinian friars, the guardians of this church, relinquished their hold, a new chapter began. The charitable institution of Misericordia took up residence, using the church as a hub for missionary and charity work. It became a sanctuary of solace, exemplifying compassion and service to the community.
Neglect and the Weight of Time:
With the passage of time, the buildings, once vibrant, fell into neglect. The tragic culmination of this neglect was the collapse of the vault on September 8, 1842. This significant event marked the decline of the building’s structural integrity and a poignant symbol of an edifice left to the ravages of time.
The State’s Intervention:
In response to these occurrences, the Goa government stepped in, appropriating the property and selling the materials of the remains of the church in 1843. The fate of this architectural gem was sealed, and the building continued its descent into decay.
A Gradual Unraveling:
The decline continued in the following years. In 1846, the main vault of the church met its demise, and the convent rapidly deteriorated. The facade, an enduring symbol of its grandeur, crumbled on August 8 and 19, 1931. By 1938, the last remnants of the facade, along with the 46-meter-tall tower, had fallen.
The Quest for Queen Ketevan:
Amidst the ruins and the fading echoes of history, an enigmatic tale resided. It was the story of Queen Ketevan of Georgia, her gruesome martyrdom, and the belief that her missing corpse lay hidden beneath these crumbling stones. The Georgian government, for whom Queen Ketevan is the patron saint, turned to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to seek her resting place, a quest that has spanned 15 years.
In 1613, Shah Abbas, the Emperor of Persia, led an army to conquer the Georgian kingdom, taking Queen Ketevan as a prisoner. Her unwavering faith led to her brutal martyrdom in 1624. The remains of this revered queen were spirited away to Goa by Portuguese clerics who concealed them in the shadow of St. Augustine Tower. Her right hand and right arm were laid to rest in the sacred ground of the church.
In 1835, the church faced an ignominious fate, as the repressive policies of the Portuguese government led to the eviction of many religious orders from Goa. This marked the beginning of the end for a place that had once echoed with the prayers and hymns of devout Augustinian monks.
In 2006, a joint effort between Georgian and ASI experts uncovered the long-lost relics from beneath the window of the church. DNA tests on these remains are being conducted, an endeavor under the auspices of the ASI that seeks to bring Queen Ketevan’s story to light and bridge the gap between history and legend.