Saligao village is known for its significant and outstanding landmark – the stately church of “Mae De Deus,” the only church in Goa that was built with Gothic Architecture. The Communidade of Saligao played an important role, driven largely by a specific individual Gaunkar, who easily had to be, the biggest benefactor of the village of Saligao – “Francisco Salvador Zeferino Pinto” fondly known as Salu Pinto. Salu Pinto was born in the year 1827 in Cotula. His house still stands beside the building which now houses the Krist Raj, old aged home for men; A stately mansion, called Casa Gama Pinto. He was the son of Caetano Antonio Pinto and Anna Felis Perpetua: both from Cotula.
As he grew up, Salvador took a great interest in the welfare of the community. His contemporaries found him to be decisive and fair. He was a man of great intelligence and political acuity, who could ably handle civic, political, and social problems. Salu Pinto was well accepted in the community and held office as the Attorney of the Communidade of Saligao for several years.
At a public meeting held in the village in November 1864, he was chosen to head a committee responsible for the project of constructing a new village church. The meeting was held following the Archbishop’s suggestion of a separate parish, during his Eminences’ visit to Saligao. This suggestion was apparently the result of earlier correspondence initiated by Salu Pinto with the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, whilst he was the Procurator (Portuguese word pronounced as “pur – cu – ra – do” ‘Attorney’ in English) of the Comunidade. The people had also chosen Salu Pinto as a leader and champion of the Partido Progressivo (Progressive Party) and a member of the Municipality of Bardez. Later, he was elected Mayor of Bardez, the first son of Saligao to be elected to this high and influential position in this capacity. He left no stone unturned to secure official approval for the building of the Saligao Church. The words of Salu Pinto in Konkani at the conclusion of the public meeting in the village thrilled the people. He remarked, “Ami soddsoddit Igroz bandteleanv;” (we shall speedily build the church).
From then Salu Pinto and his committee, with the unanimous backing of Saligaocars, made quick headway. The plans and estimates that were submitted got official approval on 23rd June 1865. It was decided to earmark funds of the Communidade to the tune of 49,869 xerafins (gold coins minted in Goa) and 8 rein for the construction of the church. The Inspector of Public Works, Major Martins, had been asked to draw a plan for a Gothic Church. Public tenders were invited, and, Salu Pinto and the committee members ensured that no Ganvkar of Saligao was allowed to have any hand in submission of the tenders. The final and close scrutiny was made and the plan for the construction of the church was approved. A special session of the ‘ganvponn’ ( communidade components) was held to elicit the popular will. The open deliberations were followed by voting and the signatures of those present were recorded in the minute-book. Those unable to write “thumbed” their approval instead. It was an eventful day for the villagers when on 7th February 1867, the foundation stone was laid for the new church. Salus’ Son, Dr. Claudio Gama-Pinto who was just 14 at that time, gave a rousing speech during the laying of the foundation stone of the church.
Dr. Gama Pinto went on to become a world-renowned ophthalmologist in Portugal and is more widely known as compared to his father. There is a road in Panjim named after him – “ Dr. Gama Pinto Road”. The Masonry for the Saligao church was got from a quarry, on the site where the Saligao Seminary now stands. On 25 October 1873, the Archbishop of Goa officially confirmed the name of Mae de Deus for the church in Saligao. Salu Pinto, with an uncanny sense of timing, quickly dispatched a petition to the government and the ecclesiastical authorities, pleading that the statue of Mae de Deus at Daugim in Old Goa be allowed to be taken to the new church in Saligao. The request was promptly granted. It was a milestone in the history of the Saligao Church. At the same time, influential circles in Panjim and Old Goa moved the Overseas Minister in Lisbon to have the Goa Governor General’s order to shift the statue rescinded. It was done. But the directive rescinding the earlier order came too late. By then, the new Church of Saligao was solemnly inaugurated and blessed, and the statue of Mae de Deus was firmly placed on the collateral altar. This happened on 26th November 1873, a red-letter day for the parishioners of Saligao, thanks mainly to the efforts of Salvador Pinto.
The final bill was with a variation of just 1% from the original such as the accuracy, honesty, and integrity in the completion of the work. Salu was asked and readily served as a member of the fabrica of the church for some time. Two decades later, Salvador Pinto died at the age of 67, on 19th June 1894. In recognition of his services in the construction of the church, a Perpetual tomb was granted to the Pinto family in the sanctuary of the church close to the altar versus popular (facing the people). However, (despite efforts), this author could not locate it for a picture. Perhaps it is hidden in the flooring, which is now a carpeted area.
The foundation cross was demolished during the centenary celebrations but was rebuilt about 10 years ago by another Attorney, the late Mr. Austin Dagama, whose first death anniversary was recent, on 17th June 2022. The new cross was shifted from the center of the ground, (where the 2 paths meet the church center path) towards the end wall. Sadly, it is not known what happened to the original foundation stone.
The Gama-Pinto family, gaunkari lineage, may be extinct soon, as there remains just a single surviving unmarried male heir – Sean Gama Pinto.
While we are in the midst of celebrating the 150th-anniversary celebrations of the church, we cannot forget and should remember that we also celebrate the 128th Death anniversary of the man who gave the village of Saligao its most noted landmark.
** Written by Ashley Delaney (current Attorney of Saligao Communidade) with excerpts
taken from “The land of the Sal tree” A book by the late, Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas.***
Painting of Salu Pinto by Late Demitra Dias e Gama Pinto, wife of his Great
grandnephew from looking at the original paintings that she had to assemble as a
jigsaw puzzle; still some bits were missing for she had to improvise a bit as well.
Pictures of Saligao church by Ashley Delaney
Picture of Gama Pinto house of old – by Shane Gama pinto