The feast of St John the Baptist is almost here. Celebrated on the 24th of June every year, it’s one of the most popular feasts among Goans and is better known as São João to everyone in the state. And of course, since it’s a feast, there has to be a saint involved. Which also means there is a place of religion named after the saint in question. Goa has not one but three churches dedicated to St John the Baptist. These are located in Pilerne, Carambolim, and Benaulim.
3 churches named after St John the Baptist
Not much is known about these churches. All 3, however, have existed since the days of Portuguese rule in Goa.
St John the Baptist, Pilerne
St John the Baptist church in Pilerne was originally a chapel built in 1658 by Frei Diogo de Santa Clara. As you can see, the church was named after and dedicated to its patron saint, St John the Baptist or São João Baptista (in Portuguese). A lot of people also refer to it simply as the Pilerne church. It is also said that the church had to be rebuilt twice before becoming the present structure.
The church complex has a grotto of Our Lady of Fatima. The interior has five altars dedicated to different religious figures. The main altar is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The remaining four pay homage to St.Anthony, Our Lady of Piety, Our Lady of the Mount and Our Lady of Holy Souls.
The Church of St John the Baptist, Carambolim
The façade of the church is designed in the mannerist Neo-Romanesque style (as are most of the churches in Goa). The structure has 5 bays and is 3 stories tall. The center of the façade starting from the main arched doorway is stacked in the sequence of Arch-Rectangle-Oculus-Relief. It has a single bell tower to the left. The main doorway is framed by fluted Corinthian columns.
The church has an unusual altar with panels containing paintings depicting various incidents of the life of St John the Baptist. It includes the one of his beheading at the insistence of the daughter of Herodias. The main altar is dedicated to the patron saint, while the side altars show a crucified Christ and Mother Mary. The pulpit of this church is also unique because the motif of the “mermaids” can be clearly seen. These mermaids are depicted as if they are carrying the weight of the pulpit.
St John the Baptist Church – Benaulim
Originally founded and built close to the shore by the Jesuits in Colva in 1581, this particular church was later moved inland to the Benaulim Monte in 1956. The reason being that the original location was far too marshy to be able to hold such a large structure.
It’s a truly beautiful church with low domes, four storeyed towers and a rococo design. The main altar has plain paneling and gallery in cornice design. Father Joseph Vas hailed from this famous village in South Goa and was baptised in this very church.
The feast of São João
The feast of São João is a popular feast celebrated all over Goa with fervour and excitement. According to the Bible, it originated from the story of Jesus’ mother Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth who was due to give birth. It is said that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy on hearing Mary’s voice. This baby was born John the Baptist. And taking from this story, locals in Goa, jump into wells and other water bodies in an attempt to emulate baby John’s behaviour in his mother’s womb. While it is celebrated all over the state, it is much more popular in North Goa.