Old Goa Churches

The historical 'Old Goa lies in the north of Goa and was formerly the capital of Goa during the Portuguese rule. It is also known as Velha Goa and lies 10 km to the east of Panaji, the capital of Goa. Visiting Goa and not seeing Old Goa may be likened to visiting Rome and not seeing the Vatican. Such is the compelling nature of the history and ambience of Old Goa that sees hordes of visitors all through the year and especially during the feast of Saint Francis Xavier, celebrated with great religious fervor on the 3rd of December and is officially a high day for all practicing Catholics and a designated holiday in Goa. St. Francis Xavier is considered the patron saint of Goa and is fondly called 'Goencho Saib' vernacularly by the local denizens.

Old Goa has a magnificent group of churches dating from the sixteenth century upwards, highlighting a variety of architectural styles then prevalent in Europe, be it the Classical, the Baroque or the Manuline. The church of St. Augustine with its Corinthian columns and colossal bell tower, the church and convent of St. Francis of Assisi with Its ornamented entrance, trefoil arch and rib-vaulted nave reminiscent of the gothic style, the Basilica of Bom Jesus with its facade decorated with Ionic, Doric and Corinthian pilasters and the Se Cathedral with its Tuscan exterior and the Corinthian columns at its portals are a few of the stately monuments of Old Goa.

The area of Old Goa extends 3,800 sq km between the Western Ghats and the Arabian sea. The cultural history of Old Goa can be traced back to the eleventh century. Later, the city flourished as one of the principal emporia of trade on the Western coast of India. Of the many travelers who have left behind eyewitness accounts is Duarte Barbosa, who, while describing the city on the eve of the Portuguese conquest in the sixteenth century, says that the city was very large with lofty edifices, including temples and mosques, streets and squares, surrounded by fort walls and towers.

With the advent of the Portuguese, both public and private buildings began to be erected. In 1543, an epidemic broke out exterminating at least a population of two lakhs. When the epidemic was over, the city grew once again. Churches of lofty dimensions attached with equally large convents were built by the various religious orders who settled down in Goa under royal mandates. The Franciscans were the first to arrive followed by the other religious orders. The transfer of power and the repressive religious policy pursued by the government forced the eviction of many religious orders in 1835 and this led to the desertion of the city. Old Goa turned into a desolate small village, with huge buildings standing mute testimony to its glorious contribution to the culture and history of the land.

It was the beginning of the seventeenth century when the construction of most of the extant churches in Old Goa can be ascribed. The architects responsible for the construction of the churches at Old Goa looked for inspiration to the Italian architecture. Imitations of those churches in Rome, which had a touch of the Renaissance with Baroque confined to the interior sprang up. The church of St. Cajetan is modeled on the original design of St. Peter's church in Rome. The church of Bom Jesus with its facade decorated with the ionic, Doric and Corinthian pilasters shows the application of the classical order. The Se Cathedral with its Tuscan exterior, the raised platform with steps leading to the entrance, the barrel vault above the nave, is yet another example of the Renaissance. Baroque style with its heavy ornamentation and gilded work had also found its way as seen in the altars of these churches, which also served to make the required impact of awe and reverence on the minds of the new converts whom these churches were meant to serve. The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, the earliest among the existing churches here, was built in Manuline style as an experimental measure; a style of architecture prevalent in Portugal in the sixteenth century that failed to make any headway as this style with windows nearer to the ceiling was not found suitable for the sultry clime of Goa.

All the churches in Old Goa are built either wholly or largely of locally available laterite of reddish shade. Though the churches were the efforts of d iff e re n t religious orders, they are similar on plan in so far as the various components like the belfry, altars, choir, sacristy, etc. though their dimensions representati v e locations might differ with different churches. The architects were foreigners but the artisans were local people. The paintings in most of these churches were from the Italian school. The sculpture is mostly in wood, delicately carved and painted to adorn the various altars, though a few of the statues are in stone. The sculpture depicts mostly the various saints, Mother Mary and Jesus from the cross. They are beautiful Imitations of Western art executed by local artists.

All in all, a visit to Old Goa takes one down memory lane as some of the old buildings still stand tall and bear mute testimony to the cataclysmic times that went by.


Bom Jesus Church Bom Jesus Church
Location: Old Goa
St.Augustine church and tower St.Augustine church and tower
Location: Old Goa