This wood sculpture of Christ, recently seen in the ‘India and the World‘ exhibition, has its arms and the cross missing.

In typical representations of the Crucifixion scene in art, the crown of thorns is seen around Christ’s head. His hands and feet are nailed to the cross. Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist are also present, along with the thieves who crucified Christ. There are other symbols too, such as a skull or a pelican at the foot of the cross.

But this nearly 100-cm long exhibit, because of its missing parts, appears to have been pared down to focus only on the fundamental form of the Christ, even though the crucifix is a constant reminder of Christ’s suffering and the main symbol of Christian faith apart from the cross.  

The sculpture, also keeping in mind its present form, can be seen as one of the examples of how the most significant part of Christian theology, which is the Crucifixion, has been the subject of diverse interpretations and innovations by artists in different parts of the world.

But it was only during the Middle Ages that the Crucifixion scene began to be explored as a theme in art, with many Church leaders prior to that not being comfortable with depicting Christ’s sacrifice. The Christ statue, dated between 1560-1620 AD, roughly belongs to the Middle Ages period.     

The sculpture belongs to the altarpiece in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. While the altarpiece and other noticeable spots in a church often depict the most important themes or episodes from the biblical narrative, the Bom Jesus church itself represents a significant historical link to the trajectory of Christian faith in India.

It contains relics of St. Francis Xavier, who is considered the greatest Roman Catholic missionary in modern times. He was sent to Asia in 1541 to spread the Roman Catholicism and is known for his contribution to the establishment of the faith in India as well as other regions. Of course, older traditions of Christianity existed in India prior to his arrival, such as in Kerala dating back to earlier centuries. 

Featured image: Christ, polychromed wood, AD 1560-1620, Museum of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa.

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