One of Goa’s important institutions, Goa’s famous and magnificent churches are largely a legacy of Portuguese colonization. With a significant population of Goans being Christians for many generations today, the Church is an important factor in Goa’s social , cultural and religious life. The architecture of Goa’s churches has undergone notable changes with the passage of time and the fashion of the era that they were built in. Let us go down the timeline of churches together.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Bom Jesus Basilica, perhaps Goa’s most famous church and among the most revered by Christians worldwide, is partially in ruins but still a model of simplicity and elegance, and a fine example of Jesuit architecture. Located at Old Goa, 10 kilometers east of Panaji, the Bom Jesus Basilica is a World Heritage Monument.
The construction of this church of “Bom Jesus meaning god or infant” Jesus was started in 1594 and consecrated in 1606 as inscribed in a choir. The church cruciform on plan, has three storied facade having a main entrance flanked by two smaller entrances. The entire facade has moulded basalt casing and the remaining part is exposed in laterite including the buttresses.
As I entered beneath the choir, to the right of me was an altar of St. Anthony and to the left was a wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier. The interior of this chapel is adorned with scenes from the life of St. Francis Xavier.
The Chapel of St. Catherine
The chapel of St. Catherine is one of the magnificently constructed old chapels in Taleigao, which is 5 kms away from Panaji. This chapel is dedicated to St. Catherine and is built of laterite stones with a tower on either side of the church facade of St. Francis of Assisi. This chapel was built in 1510 A.D by Alfonso De Albuquerque to commemorate his entry into the city on St. Catherine’s day. It was further enlarged in 1550 by George Cabrel, the governor and rebuilt in 1952 of laterite rocks. It has a tower on either side of the facade and the interior is lain having one altar.
The Reis Magos Church
The Reis Magos Church, whose whitewashed gabled facade is visible from across the river in Panaji, was built in 1555. Fransiscan friars, who were in charge of missionary work for the area, took over the church and founded a small seminary here. This church is also known as Three Kings Church.
The church, which was built shortly after the fort above it, was dedicated to St Jerome. Historians have found evidence to support the fact that the Church was built on the ruins of an old Hindu temple.
The Church interiors are quite colorful and impressive, with the highlight being the multi-colored wood relief showing the Three Wise Men (Reis Magos) bearing gifts to the baby Jesus, which is the centerpiece of the elaborately carved high altar. Every year on the 6th of January, Reis Magos comes alive with the colorful Festa dos Reis Magos, when the story of the three Kings is re-enacted by local youth.