These past few days, I’ve been missing Goa a lot. I am sure there are thousands of people in India and even outside India who’ve been missing Goa a lot ever since the lockdown began. Its been four years since I was last in that blissful place, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss being in Goa every day. A good friend of mine says, “Goa is not a place, it is an experience.” Well, I second that.
Goa is a very beautiful state on the western coast of India. It has an unparalleled diversity in culture. Owing to its colonial roots, there is a lot of Portguese influence in everything – from food to architecture. Goans have embraced every influence and made it their own. For instance, the Bolo Sans Rival cake, a principally Portuguese cake which the Goans have embraced and made it their own in their own unique way. Open your eyes and look around, you’ll find Goa has much more than just the Portuguese Christian diaspora. There are the native Saraswats and many other local communities who have had their own culture, traditions and cuisine. Go beyond the popular beaches and clubs, into the bylanes and villages and towns of Goa to discover a Goa you would never have seen before. Just going down from Arpora to Panjim via the Mapusa road will show you some amazing sights and my favorite hair-pin bends that would leave you amazed.
But today, I’ll talk about something more touristy and very colonial in Goa – CHURCHES!
Before you proclaim that what a boring thing to talk about and stop reading, hear me out. You would have done a lot of bar hopping and club hopping at some point in your life. I propose another sort of really interesting hopping – church hopping. Its a really awesome thing to do, especially in a place like Goa. And I have a complete route planned out for you to follow. This is the route I too followed a few years ago, when I got exploring Goa by myself. There are few things more peaceful and tranquil than solo traveling in Goa.
For this Church Hopping trip, we begin at the St. John the Baptist Church in Carambolim near the Karmali Railway Station. From there we make our way towards Velha covering major churches like the Bom of Basilica Jesus and Se Cathedral, and ending the trip at the very famous Immaculate Conception Church. In total, we will cover 10 churches in this church hopping trip.
Sounds interesting? Then let’s get going! I can’t wait to explore Goa again!
St. John the Baptist Church, Carambolim
St. John the Baptist Church in Carambolim was originally a primitive chapel which was raised tot he status of a parish church in 1541. The façade of this church is designed in the mannerist Neo-Romanesque style, like most of the churches are in Goa. The church is three stories tall, with a bell tower to the left. The main doorway is framed by fluted Corinthian columns. The St. John the Baptist church in Carambolim has an unusual altar with panels containing paintings depicting various incidents from the life of St. John the Baptist. There is even a painting of the Saint’s beheading at the insistence of the daughter of Herodias. The main altar is dedicated to the patron saint, while the side altars show Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. The pulpit of the church has unique motifs of mermaids, depicted as if carrying the weight of the pulpit. If you visit in late June, you could even be a part of the vibrant Sao Joao festival. During this festival, groups of men jump into the village wells to retrieve bottles of Cashew Feni.
Church of the Cross of Miracles, Cruz dos Milagres
Next on our church hopping trip in Old Goa is the Church of the Cross of Miracles in Cruz dos Milagres. Old Goa is a valley between three hills. One of these hills is Boa Vista, which means the Hill of Good View. The Church of the Cross of Miracles is on this hill. It is believed that in 1619, a miracle happened on Boa Vista. Some shepherds who would come to graze their sheep on the hill made a cross and planted it on the hill. Miraculously, red flags were seen by the people flying above the Boa Vista. At night, people observed rays of bright light emanating from the sky and falling on the cross. Some people even saw a wounded body crucified on that cross, wrapped in bright light. The cross which was originally 3 yards tall, grew in size to 5 yards tall. The news of this miracle spread around. The sickly who came to visit this cross were found to be healed after their visit. A water spring also began gushing from near the cross. The cross was then ordered to be kept at the erstwhile Our Lady of Light church at the foot of the Boa Vista. In 1835, when the King of Portugal suppressed all religious orders, the Oratorians residing at Cruz dos Milagres had to vacate the place. The miraculous cross was then shifted tot he Cathedral church. After the 8th exposition of the body of St. Francis Xavier in 1931, there was reportedly a revival. From 1961, Goans have been celebrating mass on 23rd of every month at the church of this holy miraculous cross on Boa Vista. The church that had collapsed earlier in the 1600s was rebuilt and the devotion to the miraculous cross reawakened. Seeking the blessings of the Almighty in the shadow of this miraculous cross is exactly what we need.
Chapel of St. Francis Xavier
This is one of the most famous churches in Goa and it goes without saying that the place is really quite touristy. However, this church is one of the most important churches in Goa. The church is built of laterite blocks plastered with lime mortar, in a Doric style of architecture. The church was originally located in the college of St. Paul. The chapel was used by the famous St. Francis Xavier during his time in Goa, and as a result, the church was dedicated to him after his canonization in 1622. The original chapel fell into ruins in 1570, and what you see currently is the building that was re-built in 1884. St. Francis Xavier was the patron saint of Goa, who died in 1552 on his way to China. St. Xavier’s body was brought to Goa in 1554 and since has been kept at the Basilica of Bom Jesus (which would be our next stop). The sacred relic of St. Francis Xavier, housed in a silver casket is brought out in a conventional emissary every10 years to the Se Cathedral (which will be our stop after the Basilica of Bom Jesus). Feel at peace in this church, revel in the architecture. Observe how the local building materials were used to build the church, and the intricate carvings done by the craftsmen.
Basilica of Bom Jesus
Built in 1605, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is home to the tomb and mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. The church is built in the classic style of architecture that was introduced by the Jesuits. The Basilica is the only church in all of Goa that is not plastered on the outside. The façade of the Basilica is an outstanding example of Baroque architecture that combines different elements of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian designs. The church has a simple design with a fine marble floor that is inlaid with precious stones. The retable of the main altar has a huge statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola who was one of the founders of Jesuits along with Sr. Francis Xavier. Below this statue is a small image of Bom Jesus. Bom Jesus stands for baby Jesus, who is the patron of the church. The Chapel of St. Francis is just to the south of the Basilica.
The actual name of Se Cathedral is Se Cathedral de Santa Catarina. This is the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman. The cathedral is quite the landmark in the region and is built in the Portuguese Manueline style. The church is said to the be the largest church in Asia. ‘Se’ stands for ‘See’. The Se Cathedral was built to symbolize the Portuguese victory over the invading Muslin army in the 16th century. The day of the victory is today celebrated as the Feast of Saint Catherine in the Se Cathedral. The cathedral has a very large bell called as the Golden Bell. This bell is known for its distinct tone and is said to the one of the largest church bells in the world and the largest one in Goa. The main altar of Se Cathedral is dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria. A convent close to the cathedral has now been converted into an archeological museum, open for tourists. Every ten years, the relics of St. Francis Xavier are brought here. This is not just a church, it is a slice of history, celebrating the victory of the colonizers over an invading army. Also, for some weird reason, this movie reminds me of that beautiful action sequence in Mission Impossible. This wasn’t the church featured in the movie, but it reminds me of it.
Church of our lady of grace, Velha, Goa
There are many churches of our lady of grace, not just in Goa, but in many other places. Then why visit this one? Because this is not a church anymore, they are ruins of what used to be a church. Archeological investigations give us an idea of the monumental scale and artistic wealth of this once beautiful church, which has been compared to the Monastery of Sao Vincent de For a in Lisbon. The church is believed to have taken about 20 years to be built. The church has numerous architectural innovations unheard of that time in Goa. This in turn, set the template for the construction of other churches built later in that era like the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral. The twin tower structure, the single nave, ample inner chamber of the high altar’s retable were all a part of these architectural marvels. Today, what remains are the ruins of the ground floor , along with some fragments of the upper floor. In its glory days, this church used to be a three storied structure. Explore the ruins where this church once stood, and experience the rich heritage that is Goa.
If you’re hungry and need a break from the scorching heat, this is the time to do it. There are many restaurants in this area, as this is the main tourist area in Velha. You’ll easily find good budget restaurants dishing out Punjabi and Chinese delicacies, Goan thalis, and sea food. If you are a veegtarian like me, don’t worry, you’ll find some vegetarian fare here easily. You’ll even find cats for company. Don’t forget to refill your water bottles as well. Also, if you want to take a detour and have had enough of churches, you can walk away and go towards the entry point to the Adil Shah Palace. This is a famous palace in the area. So, you can take a break from seeing old churches and see an old palace.
Sao Pedro Church, Velha
This church may not be as monumental as the churches you just finished visiting, but it is no less historic. Also called as St. Peter’s church, the Sao Pedro church was built in 1543. It is one of the eight parish churches located in Old Goa, and sadly the only survivor too. The Sao Pedro church was even declared as a national monument in the 1930s. The church is built in a Renaissance and Mannerist style. The church façade is devoid of orientation, and there is a two-storied bell tower to the left of the church. The church is dedicated to St. Peter, the Prince of Apostles. In the background of the altar there is an old wooden frame encrusted with thin marine shells. The church is rather small, but still quite an endearing sight.
St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Ribandar, Goa
This church may not be something you notice easily or give a second look to. But the church is a very significant landmark in the Indian Orthodox movement. To understand its significance, I need to share a little history lesson. Towards the end of the 19th century, around 4000 Catholic families, mostly fishermen rose in revolt against the Roman Catholic Church. They went on to set up their own order, a part of the Indian Orthodox movement. This order is now dying a slow death, which it makes it all the more important to visit this church and understand what it stands for. In 1885, attempts were being made in Goa to overthrow the Portuguese colonizers. The Portuguese denied basic civil and ecclesiastical liberties to the Goans. It was this revolt against the Portuguese that gave birth to the only Konkani-speaking Orthodox movement in the world. In 1895, a tenacious Roman Catholic priest from Verna, Fr. Antonio Francis Xavier Alvares was charged with inciting people to fight for liberation. Alvares went on to become Bishop Alvares Mar Julius – the first orthodox bishop outside Kerala. In 1887, the differences peaked when Alvares who had been looking for an order that was spiritually rooted in Asian culture and Indian traditions left the Roman Catholic Church and joined the Indian Orthodox Church. The Indian Orthodox Church is also called as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Hundreds of Goan families followed in Alvarez’s footsteps and joined the Indian Orthodox Church. The St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Ribandar came to be much later after the tomb of Alvarez Mar Julius was discovered in Panaji. The origin of most parishioners of this church can be traced back to Kerala. Their numbers are dwindling now. A visit to this church will help you experience the struggle of the local people for their civil liberties, their fight against the Portuguese colonizers, and understand a movement that is the only Konkani-speaking Orthodox movement in the entire world.
Our Lady of Merces Church, Merces
Merces in Portuguese means a gift or a prize. Our lady of Merces church is located in Merces between the villages of Santa Cruz and Morombi. In earlier times, Merces was inhabited by Dominicans. The village has abundant paddy fields and coconut groves making it a picture perfect location to visit. Originally the church was a chapel under the Santa Crus church in 1600. However, in 1613, it separated from the Santa Cruz parish, and its status was elevated. The church has a gothic design marked by the Gothic pinnacles and is three storied. In front of the church is the statue of Christ the King with an inscription in Portuguese means ‘Remembrance of the Consecration of this Church, 10-11-1929’. There is also a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the corner. This is a small church in a pretty village. This will be our last stop before making to Panaji city over to our final stop on this church hopping trip.
Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, Panaji
I know I had said we’ll be church hopping in Old Goa, and Panaji is not Old Goa. But then, find me a church that is more iconic and symbolic of Goa than the Immaculate Conception Church and I will strike this stop off m church hopping itinerary. Pick up any Bollywood movie that features Goa, especially Panaji, and this church will be right there staring back at you. I tried to put together a list of movies shot here, but the list was so long that less than half way through I lost count. Malang, Drishyam, Simmba, Ek Villain, any movie that features Panaji will definitely have the Immaculate Conception Church. Its like a rule! Its like how any movie that wants to show arrival in Mumbai, will show you the Chhatrapti Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (Erstwhile Victoria Terminus) and then Marine Drive (As if that is all there is in Mumbai!). But well, since this is the most iconic church there is, I couldn’t end this church hopping trip on a better note than this. Built in 1541, this church is one of the main attractions of Panaji (Of course it is, do you know how many actors and actresses have ran up and down those stairs during shoots!)The chapel here was re-built in 1619. the architecture of this church is beautiful mix of Portuguese – Baroque and Goan styles. The façade s a distinct identity of this church with two towers and an imposing belfry. It is often called as the ‘Crown of Panaji’ because the church is visible from long distance away and is a landmark of the city. the ancient bell in this church was originally housed at the Church of Our Lady of Grace (you visited it before the lunch break, remember? Those ruins you visited? Check your phone, you took pictures there!) and was rescued from there to be installed here. The bell is believed to be the second largest bell in Goa. (So where was the largest one? I told you about that, you even visited the place!) This iconic church is a must visit, church hopping or no. Don’t forget to click pictures.
Quick Tip: The road outside and onwards from the Church of our lady of immaculate conception (I got tired just saying the name!) is a one-way. So, please follow the direction in which everyone is going. If the traffic police catches you going the wrong way, you’re in for a hefty fine.
Quick Tip: If you still have some energy, and some battery in your cameras, visit Fontainhas which is just a stone throw away. This is the Latin quarter of the city. It is very, very colorful and beautiful. This area is also featured in a lot of movies. The place is an Instagram jackpot, literally. If you’re not gramming what are you even doing!
Well, that’s a wrap on my church hopping trip. While I am still at my home here, I got reminded of every single church and my memories with them. It was almost like I was there again, until the milkman came ringing his bell and the newspaper-wala threw the newspaper which hit my door with a loud thud. So, while I go get some milk and make myself a cup of coffee to read the newspaper with, you plan your next trip to Goa, and include my church hopping itinerary in it.