Mumbai

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

Time is fluid in the corridors of St. Xavier’s College. Besides the struggle to find phone network amidst its thick walls, the Gothic architecture of the institute, with all its finer details and broad strokes, can take you back to 150 years. Ornate with arches and gargoyles, it doesn’t take much to find the past.

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

Yet, there’s history that’s perhaps consigned to oblivion. As sesquicentenary celebrations are ongoing in the college (it was founded in 1869), we scan through two notable volumes of the college — The Jubilee Souvenir and A Chapter in the history of St. Xavier’s College 1933-1940 — to highlight some lesser-known aspects of the institute and showcase images from the rich archives of the college library and the Heras Institute. While The Jubilee Souvenir looks at the first 50 years of the college, A Chapter in the history of St. Xavier’s College 1933-1940 is dedicated to the massive architectural expansions of Fr. G Palacios during his tenure (1933-1940) as the principal. He notably worked on the construction of a new hall, library and chapel.

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

Spanish influence

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

The towers and battlements in the college are suggestive of the Spanish style, although similar battlements can also be found in some Oxford colleges. The frieze above the gallery of the hall is a motif which can substantially be found in many English and continental structures. Without getting into technical details, it is easy to discover the inspirations as well as departures which are original. For instance, one can spot some elements of the West Walton Church, Norfolk in the architecture.

The college library

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

The doors and the catalogue chests in the library were made in the style of the old German carvers. Fr. G Palacios designed the library space in a way that it was placed right in the middle of the college complex — above the hall, below the lecture rooms, one side connected with the new chapel, the other with the lecture rooms, dominating the front quadrangle on one side and the tennis court on the other.

Printing Press

The college had a modestly-sized printing press of languages including Roman Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Marathi, Urdu and French. The printing machine could be worked by hand or motor.

Educational film society

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

Fr. Palacios encouraged the critical appreciation of motion picture by organising weekly bulletins on films. In the A Chapter in the history of St. Xavier’s College 1933-1940, he writes: “For better or for worse, cinema has come to stay with us, and to the youth of the city it has become almost a part and parcel of life. No good is being served by mere negations and silly inhibitions. Why not provide them with good and healthy films and turn the very instrument of pleasure or perhaps destruction into a channel of instruction and education?”

The chapel

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

With some touches of perpendicular Gothic, the college chapel was built under the guidance of Fr. G Palacios. The three doors at the foot of the chapel are of thick teakwood panels, with carvings representing human virtues. Each trait is highlighted through the carving of a notable person. King Emperor George VI signifies power, Mughal emperor Akbar stands for glory; Leonardo da Vinci represents spirit of enquiry; General Francisco Franco signifies leadership; Vasco Núñez de Balboa is representative of enterprise; Esther, the Jewish Queen of Assuerus represents beauty, Samson is there for strength, Dorabji Tata stands for wealth; Louis Pasteur represents science; Michelangelo stands for art; St. Isidore of Seville stands for work; St. Elizabeth of Hungary for love; Rabindranath Tagore for kindness; Solomon for wisdom; and Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros for statesmanship.

The Bombay Plague

The first batch (1869-70) had 11 students. After the first batch, the number of students in both St. Xavier’s college and school kept steadily rising in the first 25 years. But partly due to the Bombay Plague in 1896, the total number of students dropped from 1,198 to 930, which also led to a policy change to keep a cap on the intake (especially after 1904) because “the establishment was reaching dimensions which were unmanageable”.

The first female batches

150 years of the Xavierite way of life

In January 1912, women were enrolled in the college for the first time. The first batch had only nine women, none of whom continued their education at the institute. The second batch had 13 women students of which three graduated, while the rest left to join medical college. “In July 1919, a piano was placed in the college hall. Soon the ladies came to hear of it and it was not long before they were heard playing and singing after the lectures were over,” informs The Jubilee Souvenir.


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