heritage tour

Churches of Goa

Church building was one of the main occupations of the early Portuguese and in fact one of Vasco da Gama's main missions for finding the sea route to India was to "seek Christians and spices".

Christianity was forced upon with religious fervor by the Portuguese during the period of the "Inquisition" with wide scale destruction of temples and this continued till the official end of the "Inquisition" in Goa in 1812. Most of Goa's churches were built on the very site of former temples. The confiscated lands of the temples were handed over to the church and the communidades. In fact, the first Hindu temple allowed to be constructed by the Portuguese in 300 years was in 1818 at Panaji.

With a significant population of Goans being Christians for many generations today, the Church is an important factor in Goa's social , cultural and religious life. For example, the contribution of the Church to education in Goa is immense. Today the churches are all part of the Archdiocese of Goa and function with its help, many are also protected sites.

The architecture of Goa's churches have undergone notable changes with the passage of time and the fashion of the era that they were built in.

The church architecture can be broadly broken down to the following periods.

The Early period - From 1510 - 1550 AD
The Baroque period - From 1550 - 1660 AD
The Indian baroque period - From 1660 - 1760 AD
The Rococo period - From 1760 - 1899 AD
The modern period - From 1900 onwards.

The Early Period :

The oldest surviving Church in Goa today is the Church of Our Lady of Rosary on Monte Santo, Old Goa. Built on the site of Alfonso de Albuquerque's hill of Victory soon after he conquered Goa in 1510. The style of Churches during this time period is termed as "Manueline" after King Emmanuel of Portugal. This style is an amalgamation of Gothic and Renaissance and is a style peculiar to Portugal of that time. The decorative motifs of this style centered on Portuguese dominance of seamanship and included cables and anchors with seashells etc. This type of construction was largely not suited for Goa's weather and a number of these Churches were subsequently rebuilt or remodeled and only one or two survives to this day. This was the period that saw wide spread destruction of Hindu temples with new Churches constructed on their sites. Some notable churches of this era include the Church at the Cabo near Panaji and the Church on the Island of Divar off the coast of Old Goa. Most others are in ruins, especially in Old Goa.

The Baroque Period :

This period coincides with the Renaissance period in Europe and also coincides with the period of "Golden Goa" and the influx of Missionaries to Goa including St Francis Xavier. Church building during this time reached a fever pitch with styles and plans that are totally European. The great churches of Old Goa including the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral, and the Church of St Cajetan and the largest of them all, the Augustine Church of Our Lady of Grace, now in ruins, belong to this time period and style. The other notable churches outside of Old Goa built in this period include the Rachol Seminary, and the then newly rebuilt Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, at Panaji. The architecture of this period being a mixture of Tuscan, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles.

The Indian Baroque Period :

The churches of this period represent the local contribution to church building in terms of style and design. The most important being the design of the outer facade and the ceiling with inclusion of flowers, tropical motifs etc. The prominent churches of this period include the Church of St Francis of Assisi at Old Goa, The Church of Holy Spirit at Margao and the Church of St Ana at Talaulim and The Church of Our Lady of Compassion at Divar.

The Rococo Period :

The churches of this period are characterized by their rather small size but with an accent on exquisite and ornate finishing on the inside with local motifs and paintings. Another element was the use of Stucco on the exterior facade. The style reflected to a large extent the relaxation of the religious fervor of the Portuguese . This was also the period of the New Conquests. One of the classical examples of this style is the Church of St. Stephen's at San Estevan near Panaji. Others include the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate conception at Moira, the Church of St Alex at Calangute and the Church of Our Lady of Rosary at Margao.

The Modern Period :

This period dates from the early nineteenth century onwards. There is a multitude of different styles and represents the freeing of the rigid structure of the past. Some examples include the Church of Nossa Senhora at Saligao built in the gothic style.

Epilogue :

Most of the churches are functioning institutions and can be seen and prayed in. Most are revered by both Hindus and Christians alike because of their past.

A short list of important churches of Goa is given below, click on for more details.

The Major Churches Of Goa are :

Se Cathedral :
The cathedral built in purist Tuscan style and is stagerring in proportions. In one chapel is kept the Cross of Miracles, said to grow in size & have healing properties. Heavily gilded central altars depict the martyrdom of Saint Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

Convent & Church of St. Francis of Assisi :
The beautiful church displays superb decorative paintwork & woodcarving & floor are inlaid with elaborately engraved tombstones depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis. The convent at the back of this church is now the Archaeological Museum.

Church & Convent of St. Monica :
This huge, three-storied laterite building was commenced in 1606 and completed in 1627. Once known as the Royal Monastery on account of the royal patronage, which it enjoyed, the building is now used by the Mater dei Institute as a nunnery, which was inaugurated in 1964.

The Church of Mae de Deus -At Saligao Bardez, 13 kms. Built in 1873, is situated amidst picturesque surroundings. The shrine of the miraculous statue of Mae de Deus (Mother of God) was brought from the ruins of the convent of Mae de Deus at Old Goa. This beautiful church is the finest piece of gothic style.

The Church of St. Alex - Curtorim :
Nine kilometer from Margao, the Church of St. Alex is one of the oldest churches in Goa, built in 1597.

The Church of our Lady of the Rosary :
The Church of our Lady of the Rosary represents a fusion of European and Indian elements; while the wall frescos reveal Hindu designs, those on the alabaster tomb of Dona Catherina, wife of the first Portuguese woman to hazard the long & arduous voyage to the Indies, demonstrate the impact of the Muslim-Bijapur style. Over the years the Portuguese zeal for propagating their religion became rigid & intolerant. Consequently temples were demolished & churches built in their place. It was not until 18th century, when the conqueror's religious zeal had diminished, that Hindu temples were built in sylvan surroundings.

Driving through Goa's villages one is struck by the deep imprint of four & a half centuries of Latin Catholicism. Presiding over every village, commanding the heights at hilltops, hugging the shores of rivers, beside fields and dusty roads, and visible for miles around, sparkling white churches, crosses & small shrines indicate Christian ubiquity; religion is never more than a bend away. The Churches of Goa are surely a must see on Goa visit.

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