When History comes back to Life…

What happens when pieces of history get majestically refurbished? A sight worth beholding of course! Lenny Baretto loves to give churches in Goa a transfigured look, including the stunning heritage centuries-old churches. In conversation with SHERYL GONSALVES from Planet Goa, he speaks about his unique passion and what happens behind the scenes.

So how did he get into this anyway? “It just happened,” Lenny says. He started with the altar in his own church. Being involved in parish activities, the other parishioners asked him to work on the altar. It turned out quite good as he has a talent for imitating period furniture. From there, it spread through word of mouth and now it’s like a specialization for him.

Some history of the person who restores items of history… Right from school days, Lenny’s talent began to shine – from his own home. Living in a house that is more than 110 years old and being surrounded by somewhat old furniture kickstarted a hobby of rearranging things and enhancing its appearance. Noticing this, his sister told him to go for interior designing which he pursued at the JJ school of art in Bombay.

In the early stages of this journey, he started with just a desk, then kitchens for houses, and eventually sacred furniture for churches. Sacred furniture sometimes even includes the entire sanctuary which would be the altar, the commentator, the presidential chair, lectern for the Word of God, lectern for the commentator, the presidential lectern, baptismal font – all aspects of sanctuary furniture. “I would call the bishop’s house with new ideas to confirm if it’s correct to do things like that. They would give me guidance. We’ve done a lot ever since,” he reveals.

But the question is… Since these places are historical, won’t anything else look out of place? Lenny gives an answer to this, “When I work on altars, I try to incorporate any motif from the old design and existing architecture to blend it.  I don’t want it to look like a new piece of furniture that I’ve added. To a newcomer, it should look like it’s part of the architecture and part of the style.”

Now there are cameras but in earlier days he used to take a sketch pad and draw something that he could use in his design and try to match and blend it with the surrounding things.

“My favourite restoration work was at St. Andrews Church in Vasco. If you see a before and after picture, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same place. That was my best restoration work,” he fondly remembers. It was also his most challenging project. “This is because we not only restored but we enhanced the whole concept of the design,” he explains.

One problem that Lenny usually encounters are labour issues. Sometimes, the workers would take frequent holidays to go home and stay there for a long time. “When you get used to certain people, every time they go it slows you down. You’ve to start all over again when you have new people. When I was younger I could do that with anybody but there came a time when it was too much to actually train somebody, and very closely monitor them,” he reveals.

Many churches in Goa have things that have fallen apart over the years, like 50-100 years ago. At that time, people would just toss certain items away, not knowing the value of it. When history goes missing, Lenny and his team step in. The old design is incorporated to fill what’s missing. He shares: “There were 3 places that we worked in that had space for a crown on the top. For example, a casket for Our Lady would have space for a crown that is no longer there. (There was probably a gold or silver crown before.) So I made wooden ones and put them there as part of the design.”

So what are the steps taken to transform crumbling ancient items into splendid works of art? First… inspection. Front. Behind. What needs to be replaced? What needs to be strengthened? When this is done, a report is made with pictures or drawings with suggestions. Based on the report, a quotation is created. It’s hard to give a fixed quotation because when they start opening and working on the piece, there’s every chance that they’ve exceeded whatever amount of work they expected to do as there could be more damage and more replacements needed. “Restoration work can even go up to 2 months because sometimes you need to do it in stages. You need to strengthen one part to go on to the next. You can’t do everything in one sitting,” Lenny says.

Finally, what happens in the end? Immense satisfaction! It’s not just a source of income. What touched his heart was when he received feedback from many saying: “Lenny, your designs have a divine ambience which brings people closer to God.” Another point of joy is that what he does will remain for generations in these churches.

Restoration jobs:

Our Lady of Remedios Chapel, Cansaulim. 

St Thomas Church Cansaulim. 

St. Andrew’s Church, Vasco. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, issorcim.

Our Lady of Pilar, Seraulim. 


Some of his best works are at:

The Sanctuary of St. Joseph Vaz, Sancoale. 

The altar at St. Alex Church, Curtorim. 

Holy Trinity Shrine in Benaulim. 

Cruz dos Milagres, Old Goa.

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Author: Sheryl
Goa is a special place for Content Writer, Sheryl Gonsalves, with its picturesque beaches, gorgeous sunsets, rich heritage, and delicious food.

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