Describing Goa as having quite a few Churches would be an understatement. For instance, asking for directions in Goa would result in horrible directions with references to either a Church or a bar or most likely – both.
Goa stands apart from the rest of India because it was a tiny enclave ruled by the Portuguese while the British ruled the rest of India. Even as Gandhi was driving the British up the wall, the Portuguese empire in Goa remained unperturbed and relatively peaceful. In fact the Portuguese outlived the British and ruled over Goa for 451 years. It wasn’t until 19th December, 1961 that the Portuguese were unceremoniously kicked out by the Indian army with one of the shortest wars in the history of the World that barely lasted for a day.
Time has healed many of the wounds of colonialism and most people have forgotten the price they paid for freedom. The only memory of the Portuguese that remains are the beautiful Churches and houses that are scattered across this tropical paradise. Churches or even buildings of this stature have not been seen ever since in Goa.
Just as a one eyed man is king among the blind, a few Churches in Goa stand taller than the rest, displaying the magnificence and exuberance of this Portuguese colony at its zenith.
Se Cathedral is one of the largest Churches in Asia and is dedicated to St. Catherine. Built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over the Muslim rulers of Goa, it took almost 80 years to build. Legend has it that the Golden bell of this Cathedral could be heard all over Goa. One of the bell towers was destroyed during a lightening storm leaving the Church with a unique asymmetrical structure. Don’t judge a book by its cover as this Church contains 14 alters on the inside, with each being more intricately carved than the next.
Apart from its unique baroque architecture, this Basilica is significant to the Goans since it holds the mortal remains of one of the patron Saints of Goa – St. Francis Xavier. Francis Xavier died on board a ship and his body was taken to Malacca, also a Portuguese colony at that stage. It was later decided that he should be buried in Goa. On the arrival of his body in Goa, more than 2 years after his death, people noticed that Francis Xaviers body hadn’t decomposed. The Church has deemed this to be a miracle and St. Francis Xaviers body is put on display to the public every 10 years (next being 2014). A silver casket designed in the 17th Century holds the remains of this Saint.
One of the oldest Churches in Goa, this Church is located at the centre of Panaji, the Capital City. The Church towers over the City with a statue of Mother Mary at the front casting a watchful eye over its inhabitants. Originally built to welcome sailors home, the Church is over 450 years old and is beautifully preserved. The Church is used even to this very day with devout Catholics stopping by to pray en route to work.
Defying the norms, this Church was built by a few Greek and Italian priests at the turn of the 17th Century. This Church was modeled on St. Peters Basilica in Rome and stands in start contrast to the rest of the Churches built in the Portuguese era. Despite being over 300 years old, the structure is well preserved, presumably due to the lack of tourist attention to this masterpiece.
Built at the back of the Se Cathedral, this Church has large shoes to fill. Stepping into this Church takes you back in time and beautiful painted panels depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi adorn the walls. The seminary adjoining this Church has been converted into a peaceful art museum that houses most of the painting earlier placed at the Panaji Secretariat.
Despite being relatively modest compared to the other Churches, there’s nothing modest about the view from the hill on which this Church was built. The Church could be so much more but currently stands abandoned and left to the elements. However, even for just the view, this Church is worth a visit.