The central row of paintings on the ceiling are oil on canvas, depicting the life of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron saint of the church. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News

Imagine spending hours every day suspended on a scaffolding or lying on your back with a brush in hand, on a plank of wood high above the ground against the ceilings, painstakingly portraying the beauty of creation.

Imagine doing this as an act of devotion, without expecting any worldly rewards, not for a year or two, but for decades, painting one church after another across Europe and then in India.

Such was the life of Italian Jesuit artist Antonio Moscheni. No, not just life, he died doing what he loved most - bringing portraits to life in the Cochin Cathedral. Now, in death, he is more loved and admired than when he was alive.

Designed to be a replica of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, Mangalore’s St Aloysius Chapel was built in 1885. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News

In 1899, Antonio Moscheni arrived in Mangaluru and transformed the ceilings and walls of St Aloysius Chapel replicating the great chapel of Rome, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of Indian art.

Within two years of his arrival Antonio Moscheni transformed the newly built chapel into a gallery of both adulation and admiration.

Over the next six years, this painter from the small village of Stezzano in Italy, gave life to the walls of several churches, including a cathedral in Mumbai. He passed away in 1905 while he was painting the walls of the Cochin Cathedral.

A bust of the artist Antonio Moscheni outside the St Aloysius Chapel, commemorating his work and dedication. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News

But, none of his work received the kind of attention as the one he first painted in India and none other exist to carry his name into history, except the one surviving on these chapel walls.

“What Moscheni has left behind is a great treasure for us to admire. This heritage is now as much Indian as it is European and we are doing everything within our capacity to preserve these paintings and frescoes,” said Father Melwin J. Pinto, Head of St Aloysius College, where the chapel is located.

The St Aloysius Chapel was built in 1885 as a replica of Rome’s Sistine Chapel and the interiors of the chapel are no less ornate. This extraordinary work of art vividly depicts the history of creation according to Christian traditions, from the creation of the world to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In both frescoes and ‘oil on canvas,’ the artwork also showcases the life of the patron saint to whom the chapel is dedicated.

According to Fr. Pinto, apart from these more popular of his works at St Aloysius, some of his paintings can be found in some suburban churches around Mangalore, but most of his work is lost.

Covered in frescoes and oil on canvas, the walls and ceilings of the chapel present 800 square metres of art work by Italian artist Antonio Moscheni Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News


“Preserving his work is becoming a herculean task for us, it’s an expensive affair. The biggest problem we face is the weather of this region, the humidity and high levels of salinity that we have in the air here affect the paintings and frescoes adversely. Getting these paintings and frescoes restored has cost us millions of rupees, but this is part of our unique heritage and so far we have managed to preserve it through the support of our parishioners. We also get support from some of our Alumni, somehow we have managed to keep it in good condition,” added Fr. Pinto.

The institution has also received some help from the descendants of the late painter.

“Moscheni’s grand niece, Silvana Ritsi, has shown great interest in preserving the work. She even visited us and has arranged some funds for restoration,” said Fr. Pinto.

Recalling the state of the artworks some 50 years ago, Fr. Melwin added: “I passed out from St. Aloysius School here in 1979 and I remember most of the paintings at that time were faded with white patches on them, some of the canvases on the top were torn, those days the institution didn’t have the resources to get it restored and there was no expertise back then, thanks to INTACH we have managed to revive and restore the beauty of this place.”


In addition to portraying the remarkable account of Moscheni’s skills, the 120-year-old artworks portray his indefatigable dedication to his art and faith.

Built under the supervision of Rev. Fr. Joseph Willy, the ceilings and walls of St Aloysius Chapel replicate the great chapel of Rome. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News

His feat stands out further when we consider how far he travelled to give expression to his imagination.

Hailing from the village of Stezzano near Milan, Moscheni got trained in the famed Accademia Carrara of Bergamo and earned his recognition as a world class painter when he embellished the Sanctuary of Madonna Del Campo in Bergamo, Italy.

When Moscheni joined the Society of Jesus, he was deputed to paint churches in many distant places, including in Albania and Piacenza. But, his biggest challenge came in the form of St. Alyosius Chapel in Mangaluru.

“When Moscheni arrived in Mangaluru in 1899, not only had he travelled far to express his talents, but he was also in an alien territory, facing the hot and humid weather conditions of Mangaluru,” said Fr. Melwin.

To his credit, not only did Moscheni acclimatise well to the weather, but he also contended with the lack of resources to carry out his task in a small town where hardly anyone spoke his language.

“Despite a plethora of challenges, he completed more than 800 square metres of art work in just over two years, bringing to life great stories of dedication and sacrifice in the face of great adversities,” added Fr. Melwin.

Located in the campus of St Aloysius High School and College, the chapel is a feast for both the eyes and the spirit. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari, Special to Gulf News

As much as the lives of those who are portrayed on the canvases and frescoes, the life of the one who depicted them through his fine strokes shines through at St Aloysius Chapel.

Head tilted back, as you move from one panel to another on the lively ceiling, you can imagine the artist moving with you, bring each scene alive.

The walls, pillars and arches literally speak to you, echoing the stories of great love and devotion.

Whether or not you could appreciate and comprehend all the visual stories during your short visit to the chapel, as you walk out of the hallowed hall, you cannot help feeling overwhelmed by the exceptional imagery your eyes just feasted on.