Jan. 2019: Some places tip-toe around you while others ambush you and Goa is both. This is my first Goa trip (unbelievable!!!) and I refuse to limit my sightseeing to ‘ten things to do in Goa on a short trip’. The 96 hours I am here I cram in beaches, pubs, food shacks, markets, vintage homes, churches, spice garden, ancient streets, villas, villages, art studios. What’s more I am able to decode the quintessential ‘susegad’ attitude ( derived from Portuguese word ‘Sossegado‘ referring to state of tranquility, contentment, peace, and quiet) and enjoy myself.
Initially, there was some confusion from where to start…UNESCO sites or water sports and giving weight to the former found ourselves awed by the imposing Bom Jesus Basilica. The Portuguese came to India with their baggage of religiosity and literacy leaving behind cultural and architectural ‘examples of magnificence’ in their former colony.
The Bom Jesus Basilica in Old Goa, 10 kilometres east of Panaji, is a model of simplicity and elegance. The foundation stone of this World Heritage Monument was laid on 24 November 1594 and construction completed on 15 May 1605. The church, dedicated to ‘Baby Jesus, is called “Bom Jesus” meaning ‘good Jesus’ or ‘infant Jesus’. On top is displayed the letters, IHS which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek. The Church attained status of a minor Basilica in 1946.
The complex is milling with holiday crowds, people of all faiths, and we make our way inside the Church. The exterior, constructed with laterite stones brought all the way from Bassein, 300km away from Goa, makes the church stand out from plethora of white churches. It is said that in 1950 a Portuguese conservationist removed the lime plaster from the outer walls of the church as laterite stone gets stronger with time. We enter through the main entrance into the Church that has two chapels, a main altar and a sacristy besides a choir and a belfry at the back. From here walk past the elaborate gilded Main Altar, 54 ft high and 30 ft broad, with pillars carved from basalt brought from Bassein. On the right is a glass-sided casket placed at a height, containing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier (1696), founder of the religious order and Goa’s patron saint. The exquisitely carved silver reliquary was once studded with precious stones. The casket is divided on each side into seven panels with two plates each, representing important incidents in the life of the saint. After his death, somewhere in China, the body was taken to Portuguese Malacca and then shipped back to Goa two years later. The saint is said to have miraculous healing powers attracting believers and non believers, especially every 10 years, when the body is on public display. The last display was in 2014. The mausoleum, with the silver casket, was a gift of the last of the Medici, Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. I could hear strains of conversation ‘that this is the only church in India to see a ‘mummy’. (http://www.goatourism.gov.in/destinations/churches/130-basilica-of-bom-jesus)
Further ahead is the gallery display of day-to-day items worn by the revered saint and some paintings depicting his life.
From here we exit to the inside courtyard with souvenir shops and a video show. The rear exit leads to the grotto that captures the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes with a water cascade offering a ‘soothing soundtrack’. The main entrance is flanked by two smaller ones, each having Corinthian columns supporting a pediment. We exit the premises through a side exit to join the surging selfie takers wanting that one perfect shot against the imposing example of Baroque architecture in Goa.
Opposite Bom Jesus is the sprawling complex of another famous church, the Se Cathedral, dedicated to St. Catherine. It was constructed in 1510 to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over the Muslim rulers of Goa and took nearly 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, destroyed during a lightning storm, left the Church with a unique asymmetrical structure. The Church has 14 alters on the inside, with each being more intricately carved than the next.
It was mid afternoon and I suppose might have been a reason for not clicking any keepsake pictures. Further ahead is another white church, the Church of St. Catejan (1700). The crowds are missing and this might be a reason for its well-preserved appearance.
The Church, built by Greek and Italian priests at the turn of the 17th Century, is modeled on St. Peters Basilica in Rome and is different from rest of churches built during Portuguese rule.
I do not go inside but explore the premises as near the church ( same grounds) is a freestanding basalt doorway, the remains of the grand palace of Goa’s 16th-century Muslim ruler Adil Shah before the Portuguese overtook Old Goa from the Arabian Sea. The palace was converted into the notorious Palace of the Inquisition, where countless ‘heretics’ languished in the dungeons, awaiting their dreadful fate. The palace was demolished in 1820.
Nearby is another symbol of Portuguese arrival, the Viceroy’s Arch, erected by Vasco da Gama’s grandson, Francisco da Gama, who became viceroy in 1597. The brick and stone archway, commemorating Vasco da Gaza’s achievements, was built over a road leading from Mondovi river to town. Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. The arch ( restored in 1954 following a collapse) displays the Deer emblem of Vasco da Gama’s Coat of Arms on the side facing the river. On the centre is a statue of da Gama himself while on the side facing the city is the figure of a European woman wielding a sword over an Indian, lying under her feet. The original arch had a third storey with a statue of St Catherine.
This was history, in snippets, of Portuguese presence in Goa and definitely arousing an interest to know more.