Goa has truly earned the name “Rome of the East”. It abounds in churches and chapels, some dating back to the 16th century. The profusion and architectural excellence of churches include superb examples of late Renaissance, early Baroque, Manueline and Gothic. These churches have very intricate detailing and ornamentation. The most popular or the best known are the churches and cathedrals at Old Goa. But these are definitely not the only ones worth mentioning. Here are some worth visiting. They will certainly be open on Sundays; other days are variable. The ones at Old Goa are open daily.
Basilica of Bom Jesus: In Old Goa, this imposing Basilica was built by the Jesuits, and consecrated to the Holy Name of Jesus on 15 May 1605. The mortal remains of St Francis xavier are housed inside. Until the church was built, they were kept at St Paul’s Old Goa.
The casket holding the body of the saint was a gift of the Duke of Tuscany. The body of the saint is dressed in rich vestments with an embroidered coat of arms. On the right-hand side is a golden baton with 194 emeralds and at the feet is a big gold medal of King Dom Pedro II.
Chapel of St Anthony: In Old Goa, this chapel, on the hill near the church of Our Lady of Rosary, is dedicated to the patron saint of Portugal. It was the royal chapel. The statue of St Anthony was given the rank of captain of the army, with a salary due to his rank. This statue was even taken in solemn procession to the State Treasury Office where the treasurer would respectfully deposit, in the hands of the statue, the salary due to him. Small in proportions, the chapel has only a nave with flanking passages. The main alter has a vaulted paneled ceiling similar to that of the church of St Francis of Assisi. Clerestory windows flood the nave with sunlight.
Chapel of St Catherine: In Old Goa, as a small freestanding structure, it was the first place of worship ever to be erected in Goa after the reconquest in 1510. It was built in thanks for the victory against the Muslims and is dedicated to St Catherine because her feast day is on 25 November, the date of the reconquest.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception: In Panaji, set in the heart of Panaji, this church was built around AD1514. Originally a chapel, it was elevated to a church in AD1600 and then renovated in AD1619. The bell of the church is second in size only to that of the Se Cathedral at Old Goa. The bell’s size is explained by the fact that it was not originally in this church but was brought from the ruined Augustinian monastery in Old Goa. At the base of the church is Church Square. Red laterite steps joined in white create a dazzling pattern leading to the entrance of the church. The staircase was built in 1870. In the sanctuary, the three alter pieces are great examples of Baroque craftsmanship. A chapel in the church dedicated to St Francis Xavier is on the south side.
Church of the Holy Spirit: In Margao, first built in 1564, it was burnt down by Muslims (1571) and later rebuilt but demolished again in 1645. The church has ten altars and two small chapels. One is dedicated to Archangel Michael, and the other to St Roque and St Peter.
Church of Our Lady of Mount: In old Goa, on the summit of hillock opposite the Se Cathedral stands the Church of Our Lady of the Mound (Feast day, 8 September). Neat stone steps leads up to the top. This Where the artillery of Yusuf Ali Adil Shah fired from and decimated Alfonso de Albuquerque’s forces, Albuquerque reconquered Goa in 1510 and commissioned Our Lady of the Mound as part of this votive offering for victory. Although this church can hardly be called one of the architectural jewels of Goa, from its steps one gets a splendid view of the surrounding great churches.
Church of Our Lady of Miracles: In Mapusa, this church was built in 1594 over a destroyed temple. It has an exquisite Baroque fa?ade, three alter, and the main one is dedicated to Our Lady of Miracles and is richly carved, as is the pulpit. The ceiling is intricately patterned with strips of wood. The image of Nossa Senhora de Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) is held in great veneration, both by Hindus and Christians alike. The Hindus consider her a sister of Lairaee at Sirigao. The church was restored after a disastrous fire in 1838; it was again damaged when the Portuguese tried to blow up the adjacent bridge in 1961 while resisting India’s attempt to liberate Goa.
Church of the Rosary or Mac De Deus Church: In Saligao, this church, in fine neo-Gothic style, was built in 1873 amidst picturesque surroundings. The shrine of the miraculous statue of the Mother of God was brought from the ruins of the convent of Mac De Deus, Old Goa. Young boys are prepared at the minor seminary here for eventual enrollment at Rachol.
Church of Our Lady of the Rosary: In Old Goa, also known as the Church of St Mary of Rosary, this church was build in 1543 on the Holy Mound (Monte Santo) close to the convents of St Monica and St Augustine. Its importance is that it stands on the exact spot from where the conqueror of Goa, Alfonso de Albuquerque, witnessed the reconquest of Goa in 1510. The church marks the beginning of Indo-Portuguese art. As the church is open only on special occasions, few visitors are able to view the simple but delightful interior with its beamed roof.
Church of Reis Magos: In Verem, set on the right bank of the Mandovi River, the church was built in 1555. It is dedicated to the Three Magic Kings. Three viceroys who died while on service in Goa are buried here. Every 6 January, the feast of Reis Magos is celebrated here. This was once the home of all dignitaries of the Franciscan order and their mission. It is built next to the Reis Magos fort, which is entirely a prison now.
Church of St Anne (Santana): In Talaulim, dedicated to St Ana, the grandmother of Jesus Christ, this is Goa’s best surviving Baroque church. It was completed in 1695 on the right bank of Siridao River not far from Pilar Seminary and has picturesque surroundings. The unique feature of this church is that it has hollow walls through which people could walk in secrecy for the purpose of confession. Best visited on Sundays, as it is sure to be open.
Church of St Cajetan: In Old Goa, standing close to the ruins of the Viceregal Palace, Italian friars of the Theatine order built this beautiful church in 1656. Though the church is small, it is clearly inspired by the Basilica of St Peter in Rome. The external architecture is Corinthian, the interior Mosaico-Corinthian. In the middle of the nave, directly under the cupola, is a well that is covered except for small opening. The green grass on the cupola is attributed to the moisture emanating from the sell. The Pastoral Centre for its liturgical services recently renovated the church. It is the only surviving domed church in Goa.
Church of St Francis of Assisi: In Old Goa, the convent and church of St Francis of Assisi is next to the Cathedral. The church was first built in 1510 and rebuilt from 1521 onwards on the site of a mosque. It has the most beautiful interior of all churches in Old Goa, wonderfully enriched with gold, especially at the east end. The painted ceiling remains, as do the 17th century wall paintings in the chancel. Portuguese tombstones carpet the nave floor. A Manueline doorway and octagonal towers flanking the fa?ade are the two unusual features in the style of the otherwise exclusively Baroque church.
Church and Convent of St Augustine: In Old Goa, a lonely tower overlooks the old city. It is a mere skeleton of the old square towers and the treat church, which are now a heap of ruins covered by vegetation. Yet it is impressive. A dozen Augustinian friars on their arrival in Goa built this convent in 1572. After a decade this convent was rebuilt, mainly through the efforts of Fr.Gaspar de Sao Vicente, and dedicated to Our Lady of Grace. It became Goa’s richest convent, with a massive adjoining church, whose vaulted nave was one of Goa’s feats of construction.
Church and Convent of St John of God: In Old Goa, built in 1685, right next to St Augustine, the church is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Success. It gradually declined in importance until 1834 when the building was bought by the nuns of St Monica to be used as residence for their chaplains and confessors. It is comparatively simple in style and was completely restored by the Portuguese just before they were expelled from Goa. Franciscan nuns who run an Old Age Home now occupy the church and convent.
Church and Convent of St Monica: In Old Goa, although largely decayed now, this was Goa’s only convent for nuns. It was started on the holy hill in 1606 but was finished only in 1627, because a fire destroyed the building in 1620. It took 15 years to rebuild. This vast church and convent met all the needs of the 150 cloistered nuns from the retreat of Nossa Senhora de Serra. It had vast corridors, vaulted ceilings, a courtyard called ‘Vale de Liro’ and a three-storey palazzo-style building containing nun’s cells, penance rooms and a dungeon.
Se Cathedral Church: In Old Goa, the imposing Se Cathedral was completed in the year 1631. Work had begun in 1562 and it took over 62 years to complete. The massive structure, the largest in Goa, is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria on whose feast day in 1510, Alfonso de Albuquerque defeated the Muslim army and repossessed the city of Goa.
St. Alex Church: In Calangute, this is one of Goa’s oldest churches, built in 1597 on the site of a Hindu shrine called Ravalnath, whose remains can still be seen. It overlooks the main road to Mapusa.
Our Lady of Mercy: In Colva, founded in 1630, and rebuilt in the eighteenth century on the village square, houses one of Goa’s most venerated cult objects; the miraculous statue of “Menino” Baby Jesus.