The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 28, 2000

Goa: The land of gilded arches
By Kamaljit Singh

OLD Goa is situated on national highway 4A, just 10 km east of Goa’s capital Panaji, in Tiswadi district. The road passes through the estuary village Ribandar where old houses with Goan oyster-shell windows and elaborate verandahs overlook the road and the river Mandvi in the north. Gardens, overgrown with tropical vegetation add to the experience of being caught in a time warp.

The Church of St. Cajetan, modelled on St. Peter’s Church in Rome, was built in the 17th centuryWater of two distinct colours flows in Mandvi. The high tide in the Arabian Sea causes red mud on shore to dissolve, giving the water a red hue. The middle water struggles to retain its azure.

Accounts by travellers like Durate Barbosa Philip Baldaeus in 1672, Dellon and others speak of a thriving city with many buildings and monuments both ecclesiastical and lay. Barbosa, on the eve of Portuguese conquest in the 16th century, describes the city as very huge with lofty edifices surrounded by fort walls and towers the most conspicuous being the palace of Adil Shah. Philip Baldaeus, a Dutch traveller, in 1672 mentions about churches of lofty dimensions and monasteries erected by various religious orders, numerous smaller shrines and chapels, dotting the landscape, shops full of silk, porcelain and other articles on the principal road.

  Every viceroy of Portugal posted to Goa, when it was called the "Pearl of the Orient" used the old ceremonial route along the river Mandvi. A mood of quiet reflection overtakes me as I make my way under the ‘Viceroy’s Arch’ and imagine the pomp and pagentry that heralded royal landings in the days gone by.

Old Goa boasted of Viceroy’s Palace, St. Augustine’s Church, College of St. Paul, the Palace of Linquisition and a royal hospital which is said to have provided the inhabitants with the best medical care possible in the world at that point of time. The gradual decline of old Goa in the 18th century, coupled with failure to replaster in face of 200 years of a harsh tropical climate with long monsoons and moisture-laden winds, reduced these to the heaps of rubble and bat-infested ruins. No one seems to know much about the existence of old hospital and other landmarks of the golden times.

After the landing of Vasco de Gama at Calicut in 1498, the Portuguese trading base in Cochin met the opposition from Zamorin who had once whole-heartedly welcomed Vasco. The competition offered by Arabs compelled them to look out for a permanent base from where they could control the seas. Goa, with its natural harbours and navigable Mandvi and Zuari rivers provided the answer.

In 1510, Alfonso de Albuquerque drove out the forces of Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur. In the 17th century, the Portuguese extended their control over Bardez and Selcete. Later, by virtue of their treaty with the British they continued to rule over Goa, besides Daman, Diu and Nagar Haveli.

Ruins of St. Augustine Church built in 1602 by Augustinian friarsBefore the arrival of Portuguese, Old Goa was a flourishing city, surrounded by walls, towers and a moat; and contained mosques, temples and the palace of Adil Shah. Nothing of the royal buildings remain except a gateway to the extinct palace in the gardens of the impresive Church of St. Cajetan tucked away in a lane leading off from the grandiose Se Cathedral.

Under the Portuguese rule, the city grew rapidly. Many gorgeous churches attached with equally large convents were built by the various religious orders settled in Goa under royal mandates. The Franciscans were the earliest to arrive in 1517, followed by Carmelites, Augustinian, Dominicans, Jesuits and other.

Art and architectural fashion prevailing in Europe influenced the ecclesiastical creations in Goa. Imitations of the churches in Rome, which had a touch of Renaissance with baroque confined to interior, sprang up. The Church of St. Cajetan is modelled on St. Peter’s Church in Rome.

The largest church in old Goa, Se Cathedral, is an example of renaissance. It has a Tuscan exterior, Corinthian columns at its portals a raised platform with steps and the barrel vault above the nave.

The main altar is dedicated to St. Catherine and the old paintings on either side depict scenes from her life and martyrdom. Of the two towers, only one remains and it houses the Golden Bell which during Inquisition. tolled the death-knell for heretics being burnt at the stake.

Towards the west of Se Cathedral is Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Built with laterite blocks and time-plastered in 1616, its exterior is of the Tuscan order while main entrance is in Manuline style. The three-tier facade has octagonal towers on each side and in the central niche there is a statue of St. Michael. The main entrance is decorated with resette bands. The Stylar nave is rib-vaulted which support the choir. The internal buttress walls, separating the chapel and supporting the gallery on top, have frescoes showing floral designs. The main altar has a large statue of St. Francis of Assisi and equally large statue of Jesus on the cross. Beneath are inscribed three vows of the saint, i.e. poverty, humility and obedience. The adjoining walls of nave retain painted panels depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis. Its gilded and carved woodwork and murals are amongst the finest examples of Christian art in the country. The convent, which formed an annexe to the church now, houses the archaeological museum and a visit here is must for any discerning tourist to get into the Goan history.

On a wooden board, are displayed the names and tenures of all 163 Portuguese viceroys and governors to India from 1505 to 1961. Conspicuous among them is Vasco De Gama who is credited with discovery of the sea route to India in 1498. Beginning with D. Francisco De Almedia (1505-09) as the first Viceroy, Vasco De Gama was the second Viceroy to India for one year in 1524. De Manoel, Antonio De Silva was the last one in 1961 when the Indian forces got it Independence.

Church of Bom Jesus houses the body of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of GoaOn the first floor, the museum houses the life-size paintings of majority of the Viceroys though many of these are in poor condition. Nevertheless, these paintings provide an interesting study in the evolution of contemporary costumes and hairstyle in Europe and give an idea of different coat of arms.

It’s interesting to see a model of a sixteenth century Portuguese ship, akin to the St. Gabriel boat on which Vasco De Gama made the first successful historic voyage to India some 500 years ago. One is reminded of the crucial role which these kinds of ships had played in the colonial history of the world.

Towards south, across the wide boulevard from church of St. Francis of Assisi is the world famous Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Professed House aptly so called because of dedication to the infant Jesus. Except the richly gilded altars, the interior of the church is remarkable for its simplicity. Constructed in a period of ten years in 1605, its facade has the classical orders of the Renaissance, the altars are of baroque style.

As one enters, to the right is an altar of St. Anthony and to the left is a superbly carved wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier. Spiral columns and huge statue of St. Ignatius Loyada, the founder of Jesuit order, flank the richly gilded main altar. The chapel on right side of altar is the basilica’s biggest attraction, a silver casket containing the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. Charged with the mission of spreading Christianity in the Portuguese colonies in the East, incidentally it was this saint who brought the first printing press to the Indian subcontinent soon after its invention.

The interior of his chapel is richly adorned with wooden carvings and paintings depicting scenes from his life. The silver casket is exquisitely carved. Once it was studded with precious stones. Seven panels depict important incidents in the life of the saint. St Francis, a contemporary of Guru Nanak, died in 1552 at Sancian, an island off the cost of China, at an early age of 46, while coming back to Goa from Japan. First buried in Sancian, only to be taken out to be buried again in Malacca where he had done yeoman’s service in spreding Christianity, his successors opened the grave four months after burial. Finding the body fresh and life like it was brought to Goa in 1554 and was placed at the present chapel in 1613.

Over the years the body of saint has been through strange mutilation, a small portion from knee was removed at Sancian to show the captain the unusually fresh condition of body. In Malacca, the body was stuffed into a grave too short in size that the neck broke. Some times later a Portuguese woman who wanted a relic of the saint bit off a toe of the saint. In 1615, part of the right hand was cut off and sent to Rome where it is venerated in the church of Gesu. While the remaining part of the right hand was cut off in 1916 and sent to Jesuits in Japan as he was involved in spreading Christianity there shortly before his death. In 1890 one of the toes fell off, which is kept in a crystal case in the church itself. The body is exposed to public view every ten years on the death anniversary of saint. The next exposition will be in the first week of December 2004.

The convent of St. Monica, a huge three storeyed building of laterite was destroyed by fire in 1636 and rebuilt the following year. At present it houses the ‘Mater dei Institute for Nuns’ since 1964.

Further down west lies the church of the Rosary, perched on the edge of a steep cliff and provides spectacular view of the Mandovi and surrounding palms. With its austere interiors, the place exudes a sense of tranquility.

The golden days became a chapter of colonial history as the Portuguese lost sea supremacy to the British, French and the Dutch. The Inquisition and a series of devastating plagues hastened the decline and

subsequent ebb in the fortunes of the city. The transfer of seat of power to Panaji and a repressive religious policy, forcing the eviction of many religious orders in 1835, led to the desertion of the city. Old Goa is today a desolate village with a conglomeration of massive churches and convents.