Churches and Convents of Goa
The Churches and Convents of Goa are a group of Catholic religious buildings that have been influential for spreading both the faith and their Portuguese style of art and architecture around Asia. They are located in Old Goa, which from 1565 was the capital of the Portuguese Indies. It was abandoned as such in 1760 because of a malaria outbreak.
The main buildings that are included, are:
- St. Catherine’s Chapel
- Church and Convent of Francis of Assisi
- Sé Cathedral
- Basilica of Bom Jesus
- Church of Saint Cajetan including the seminary
- Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
- St. Augustine Tower
The Basilica of Bom Jesus holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary across Asia (India, Japan, China) who died in 1552. He is regarded as the patron saint of Goa. Once every decade on December 3, the body is taken down for veneration and for public viewing.
Visit January 2011
Old Goa is now mainly an archaeological site annex open air museum – there are some restaurants, vendors and people living there in shacks, but it is hard to imagine that this once was a city of 200,000 inhabitants. Their religious structures have survived, a clutter of churches, chapels and convents in different European architectural styles. I’m not sure if the whole area of the former Portuguese city has been designated a WHS, or only the named churches and convents - the documentation on the Unesco website once again is incomplete.
I arrived by local bus from Panaji, the current capital of Goa, about 15 minutes away. The site is pretty popular with Indian tourists – to them it must be a very exotic place, with its abundance of non-Indian monuments. But when you’re familiar with Southern Europe or Latin America, the churches aren’t that special. Most of them are plain, especially the interiors. Some of the churches have faded wall paintings or wooden carvings. Their style almost looks naïve. Only the Sé Cathedral and the Basilica (where St. Francis Xavier is buried) still seem to be used for religious services.
The town is pleasant enough to spend half a day. I went around on foot, the roads are not too busy and the grounds are well-kept. Nowhere I had to pay an entrance fee. The Church of St. Francis and the Basilica hold the best ornaments. Besides the churches not much is left, except for the Viceroy’s Arch near the coast – a crumbling gate that was erected to commemorate the capture of the city by the Portuguese. It appropriately has a statue of Vasco da Gama on top.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
In Goa Velha we occasionally had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were in tropical India rather than Latin America – but there were large numbers of Indians in church and wearing saris to prove it!
Overall Goa Velha exceeded our expectations - but these were perhaps not that high to start with. We were more carrying out a duty visit based on “list counting” than from any urgent desire to see the site!! This now consists of a series of churches and convents laid out pleasantly over a wide area among landscaped gardens and tropical forests – a very relaxing place to visit with bright greens (trees and lawns), blues (sky and river) and whites (most churches!). There are no significant remains of any habitation from the early days of the old city although there were signs that richer Goans were currently building plush villas among the trees. The capital was officially moved to Panjim in 1843 but the churches had begun to suffer earlier in 1835 when Portugal initiated a series of actions against the religious orders. The ruined church of St Augustine dates from these activities
Goa’s capture by the Alphonso de Albuquerque from its Muslim ruler took place as early as 1510 – Cortes didn’t overcome the Aztecs until 1520 and Pizarro the Incas in 1532. But, as far as we could make out, the current churches in Goa date mainly from the Seventeenth century having taken a long time to establish or having replaced earlier structures. The tomb of St Francis Xavier in Bom Jesus was even sculpted in Italy by Foggini and shipped out to Goa in 1698.The main exception is the fortress-like Church of Our Lady of the Rosary which was completed in 1549 on the spot where Albuquerque masterminded his second and successful attempt to capture Goa. Situated a bit away from the centre it should be visited if possible! We also enjoyed the views from the (possibly not inscribed) Church of Our Lady of the Mount a couple of kms east of the main site (photo). Yes the ornamentation isn’t as opulent as in Latin American churches from a similar period and much of painted interior decoration has been lost - St Francis is possibly the best
As Els indicates in her review, it is not entirely clear what parts of Goa Velha have been inscribed. Our guide insisted that it was only the Se Cathedral, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Francis – but he is certainly incorrect. Some large maps displayed on locations around the site show buildings with a red dot = “World Heritage Monument” and a white one = “Other Heritage sites”. This seems to show that the Chapel of St Catherine (reconstructed in 1952 on the remains of the very first church from 1510), the Church of St Cajetan, The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and the ruins of the Church of St Augustine are also inscribed – making 7 buildings in all. The map on the UNESCO Web site shows a much larger conservation zone covering all the central site plus a few other churches and some old city walls but whether this whole zone was inscribed isn’t clear. The 2003 “Peridoic Reporting” summary report boldly states - “Status of Site Boundaries • The demarcation line and buffer zone are adequate.”!!!
But all is not well in paradise! Something which surprised me was the very high profile taken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the site which includes active churches. An enormous sign spelling out the full name of the organization occupies a central location in front of the cathedral/St Francis churches – UNESCO logos are much less in evidence!! And ASI is obviously proud of what it has achieved in terms of conservation. An exhibition in St Francis church shows a whole series of “before” and “after” photos which seem to show that the ASI has been doing a good job! But the 2003 reporting notes “A Court case is pending before the District Court filed by the Archaeological Survey of India with respect to the ownership of the churches and convents, which have been declared as Centrally Protected Monuments of National Importance through the Gazette notification. As per the notification the churches and convents are declared as Centrally Protected Monuments of National importance and Archaeological Survey of India is the sole custodian. However, the ownership of these monuments were changed in favour of church authorities by Department of Survey and Land Records without honouring the notification and the
same is being challenged by the Archaeological Survey of India by filing a writ petition in the District court” The dispute rumbles on and boiled over again in Feb 2011 a month before our visit http://www.hindustantimes.com/Church-authorities-and-ASI-tussle-over-heritage-complex/Article1-661434.aspx . In the light of usch issues it is perhaps worth pointing out that ICOMOS recommended “deferral” for Goa until management issues had been sorted out!
| Date posted: March 2011|
|Neville Bulsara (India):|
It's really unfortunate that Goa sees more visitors flocking it's beaches compared to those who visit the grandoise structures at Old Goa. You'll find some photos of the churches of Old Goa in the galleries section of my travel and documentary photography website at http://www.nevillebulsara.com
| Date posted: October 2006|
|Sri Ganesh (USA):|
I visited Goa while in college in India along with friends during the Christmas-New year week in 1983. The Churches and Convents of Goa gave the feeling of being in Europe right in India! The Basilica of Bom Jesus was noteworthy and I was fortunate to visit that when Saint Francis Xavier's preserved body was exposed to the public!
| Date posted: September 2006|
|Sunny Upadhyay (Mumbai, India):|
They show Indian-Portugal culture. Much of a part of Portugese in India. As they had rules that part of India for many decaded. They're disappearing, as for greedy land developers are destroying a lot of the beauty in India.
can't UNECSO help?
| Date posted: June 2005|
|Rodolfo de Sousa (Germany):|
Although I'm a German national of Indian origin and have travelled widely all over Europe, nowhere have I seen windows like we have in Goa. They're unique. They're terrific. They're superb. And they're historic!
And they're disappearing!
Can't UNESCO do something to save them from extinction?
|Robin Huggins (France - but English ex pat):|
We visited goa earlier earlier this year and were most impressed with the Perreira-Braganza/Menezes-Braganza house, in the village of Chandor. Apart from the colonial mansion the fact that the original furnishings still exist is amazing. Is this mansion outside the scope of World Heritage?
If not it is certainly worth considering, at the moment they seem to rely on viitors donations, and as a consequence any retoration work is painfully slow. One very worrying aspect seems to be the total lack of security. I am sure some of the artifacts are very valuable indeed. I would be grateful for your comments.
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