Old Goa city being the centre of Portuguese focus during the 16th century saw many great building beings constructed. In fact, the city had some of the most spectacular churches not only in Asia but also around the world.
Being the capital of Goa and prosperity in trade had made large churches being commissioned possible. But, economic decline during the 17th century and state policy under the later Portuguese government led to the expulsion of many religious orders from Goa, leading to many of these churches being abandoned and fall into ruin over time.
Adding to the troubles of the city was the outbreak of deadly diseases time after time. This immensely decreased Old Goa’s population from 2, 00,000 to just 2000 over a span of 200 years. The city was also stripped of its status as the capital of Goa. Soon many abandoned parts of the city were reclaimed by the forests.
Some of the magnificent churches that still survive today
1. Basilica of Bom Jesus
In 1585 the construction of the professed house of Jesuits was completed in Old Goa. It is from this house that Jesuits sent their missionaries to the east. Attached to this house construction of a church began in 1594 and completed 1605. The church is today known as the ‘Basilica of Bom Jesus’ is considered to be one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Goa.
Bom Jesus means ‘Good Jesus’ or ‘Infant Jesus’ to whom it is dedicated. On the very top of the façade ‘IHS’ letters appear, the Emblem of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus). The emblem is said to denote ‘Iesus Hominum Salvator’ in Latin meaning Jesus, Saviour of men.
The church also holds the body of St. Francis Xavier one of the founders and the greatest of Jesuit missionary. The catafalque designed by Florentine sculpture Giovanni Battista Foggini was a gift from Grand Duke of Tuscany (Italy), in return for the pillow on which the Saint’s head had rested while in the coffin.
The church is over 400 years old and is also one of the major pilgrimage sites in Goa, not only for Christians but also the members of the other faith. Originally the Basilica had lime plaster, but in 1950 it was stripped off by a Portuguese conservationist. Revealing the laterite used for constructing it.
2. Se Cathedral
One of the most ancient and the easily the largest church in Asia, it took almost a 100 years to fully complete it. The construction started in the year 1562 to be completed in 1619 but consecrated only in 1640.
The Cathedral is also one of the few in the world to have received ‘The golden rose’*. It was given by Pope Pius XII in 1953 and is placed upon the tomb of St. Francis Xavier (Inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus). ‘Golden Bell’ one of the largest bells in Goa and also one of the best in the world as well. It one of the many churches commissioned by Afonso de Albuquerque.
Golden rose – a gold ornament that the Popes of the Catholic Church have traditionally conferred as a token of reverence to churches around the world.
3. The Convent of St. Cajetan and Church of Divine Providence
The architecture of this church is said to have been based on the original design of the Basilica of St.Peter in Rome (Heavy influence on the façade can be noticed). Primarily built using laterite found plenty in Goa, the exterior of the church is lime plastered.
Pope Urban VIII sent three Italians (D. Pedro Avitabili, D. Francisco Marci and D. Antonio Maria Ardizone) of the Order of Theatines to preach Christianity in the kingdom of Golconda (Southern India) in 1639. Being prohibited from working there, they later settled in Goa in 1640. They did face problems in Goa as they were asked to leave in 1645. But D. Pedro Avitabili the leader in Goa personally travelled to Portugal to tell King Dom João IV that it would be in the interest of Christianity for them to be allowed to continue their work in Goa. The Portuguese King granted permission, very much Impressed by Italian friar’s determination.
By 1650 they managed to get permission to build a Hospital and in 1655, a church and a convent. The church was completed in 1661 (which still stands today). Italian architects Carlo Ferrarini and Francesco Maria Milazzo designed the church.
Although the church is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, it is named after the founder of Theatine order St. Cajetan. He was a contemporary to St. Francis Xavier.
No vacation in Goa is complete without a visit to Old Goa and it churches. It also helps to truly understand the Goan culture and Portuguese influence on it. These structures also provide a glimpse into Goa’s glorious past.