There’s no doubt that a trip to Goa is not complete unless you do some sightseeing at Old Goa. The former capital of Goa has a rich history and has famous churches everywhere. The most famous of these being the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Sé Cathedral and St. Cajetan Church which are visited by thousands of tourists every day. Interestingly enough, there is another church up on the hill called the Church of Santa Monica.
The Convent and Church of Santa Monica
Located on the hill behind the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the convent and church of Santa Monica has an aura of mysterious beauty surrounding it. Built like a fortress, the building looks like a grand old lady full of grace and dignity who has weathered many a storm.
The same has been named after St. Monica who was the mother of St. Augustine. In the olden days, there was enough of space to accommodate almost 300 people. The convent not only served as a sanctuary for nuns. Widows wanting to dedicate themselves to God were welcome as were women whose husbands were travelling on expeditions or were part of the armed forces.
History & Architecture
The convent was sanctioned in 1598. Building started in 1606 after the then Bishop Aleixo de Menezes laid down the foundation stone. Construction was completed in 1627.
It is famous for its fortress-like structure with thick walls and buttresses and high ceilings. There is a huge courtyard with a cloister. The building stands 3 stories tall with numerous cells and halls. The outer walls have massive standing buttresses as well.
The architecture of the Church and convent reflect a combination of the Tuscan, Corinthian and composite styles. The church’s façade has two main doorways with basalt frames. The three arched buttresses are solidly constructed and were a later addition to the structure.
The façade of the church prominently features a statue of Santa Monica as well as the symbol of the Holy Ghost. The doors also feature granite carvings of a Caravel, which is a small, highly manoeuvrable Portuguese sailing ship, and a dragon.
There is a carving of the symbols of the Eucharist, the Paschal Lamb and Holy Ghost along with an inscription on the façade of the convent. The convent is built around a courtyard, called the Vale de Lirios, which means lily of the valley. The courtyard also contained a cloister. In the centre of this courtyard was a well, known as the Font de Salvador.
The Interior of the Church and Convent of Santa Monica
The convent building is a humongous structure with thick walls. A three-story building with multiple cells and rooms accommodated the residents of the convent. The famous Church of the Weeping Cross is located south of the convent.
There were four altars; the main one dedicated to St. Monica, the others to St. Augustine the Bom Jesus and the Miraculous Cross. The vaults over some of the spaces were enriched with scenes from the Bible, similar to that of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
A Nun’s life
Being a cloistered convent, this meant that the nuns living there had simple but hard lives. There wasn’t any contact with the outside world at all. Even family visits were rarely permitted, and then only under strict supervision.
There were two groups of nuns inside the convent walls. The nuns of the black veil were only those ladies of Portuguese descent whilst the nuns of the white veil were of native Goan descent. Although the government recommended that this distinction be abolished they were largely ignored.
The Museum of Christian Art
Today this convent has been converted into the Museum of Christian Art Goa, whilst the old Monastery of Santa Monica houses the Mater Dei Institute, for the formation of the faith for women from all religious congregations in India. The church too has been renovated recently and is now used as a venue for devotional music concerts and temporary art exhibitions organized by the MCAG. The Ketevan World Music Festival is also held here each year in February.
So if a trip to Old Goa is on the cards for anyone visiting, be sure to go up the hill and visit the Convent and Church of Santa Monica. It’s very close to the Basilica of Bom Jesus too. A visit to the Chapel of the Weeping Cross is a don’t miss as well.
If you would like to learn more about the Convent and Church of Santa Monica, check out the GTDC’s page with information about it.