Rome of the Orient : Churches of Velha Goa

The second Portuguese Viceroy in India, Afonso de Albuquerque was called the Caesar of the East and he built the Rome of the Orient or the present Old Goa or Velha Goa (Velha meaning old in Portuguese).

Afonso de Albuquerque called the Caesar of the East - a wooden sculpture by Dr. Subodh Kerkar at the Museum of Goa
Afonso de Albuquerque called the Caesar of the East – a wooden sculpture by Dr. Subodh Kerkar at the Museum of Goa

In the 15th century, Goa was part of the Adil Shahi dynasty or the Sultanate of Bijapur; the land of Hindu natives was ruled by a Muslim king Yusuf Adil Shah, who was a vassal to Mahmood Shah or Shihab-Ud-Din Mahmud, of the Bahmani Sultanate; with the Mughals ruling the north and the Hindu Vijayanagara empire in the south. The port of Goa was where the horses from Persia were brought and sold to both the Muslim and Hindu kings. The Persian horses were much sought after as detailed by Ralph Fitch in the book Goa Travels “All goods carried to Goa in a ship wherein there are horses pay no duties; but if there are no horses, you then pay eight in the hundred for your goods.”

Yusuf Adil Shah died in 1511, shortly after the loss of Goa to Afonso de Albuquerque, in 1510 who fought the Muslim ruler with help of a Hindu privateer named Timayya.

While Goa remained with the Portuguese, the rest of the Bijapur Sultanate was absorbed into the Mughal Empire in 1686, after its conquest by Emperor Aurangzeb. It’s a wonder why the Portuguese were not ousted from Goa by the mighty Mughals?

As detailed in a book titled Juliana Nama by Raguraj Singh Chauha, the Portuguese woman, Dona Juliana Dias Da Costa, held sway over Aurangazeb’s son and successor, Shah Alam (Bahadur Shah I). She not only helped safeguard Christians in the then Mughal-ruled India but also assisted in spreading of the faith in Portuguese India.

Coming back to the 16th century in Goa, as the old saying goes ” If you have seen Goa, you needn’t go to Lisbon.”

And as noted by Jean Baptiste Tavernier in the book “Goa Travels” ….” All who have seen both Europe and Asia thoroughly agree with me that the port of Goa, that of Constantinople and that of Toulon, are the three finest ports in both the continents.” But what remains to see in Goa of these halcyon days are only the derelict yet magnificent churches.

The Chapel of St Catherine dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria (below) in Old Goa was first built in 1510 by Afonso de Albuquerque to commemorate his entry into the city on St Catherine’s Day in November. As per the board put up near the chapel, it was further enlarged in 1550 by Jorge Cabral the then Governor of Portuguese India and nephew of explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral.

The Chapel of St Catherine, Old Goa
The Chapel of St Catherine, Old Goa

A run down small empty chapel and inside we had a close look at the typical window built in the Portuguese style – using thin polished oyster-shells instead of glass and fitted into wooden framework.

Leading to St. Catherine’s chapel are seen tomb stones (above) dating back to the 17th century.

In the same premises is a bigger and more grander church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. Interior of the church is in a sad state, a true reflection of the past glory, the later plundering and the current state of outright neglect.

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa
Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa
Interior of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi
Interior of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi

This church dedicated to the co-patron saint of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi was built by his followers the Franciscan friars in 1661. Catholic Goa is divided into two halves – the Franciscan Goa and the Jesuit Goa.

Frescoes with floral designs in Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa
Frescoes with floral designs in Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa
SE Cathedral, Old Goa
SE Cathedral, Old Goa
Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa
Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa

Unequivocally the most famous symbol of Goa will have to be the Church of Bom Jesus (Bom in Portuguese meaning Good). The church was consecrated in 1605 and houses the relics of St. Francis Xavier.

On the main altar is a very large statue of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose followers are called the Jesuits. Also prominent are the letters IHS, the first three letters of the Holy name of Jesus, a contraction derived from the Greek word ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Jesus)

View of the altar inside the Church of Bom Jesus, Old Goa
View of the altar inside the Church of Bom Jesus, Old Goa

St. Francis Xavier was known as the Apostle of the Indies; was born in Spain and joined Ignatius of Loyola and five others to establish the Society of Jesus in 1534, with the approval of the Pope. In 1542, he arrived in India and worked to spread Christianity and setting up missionary enterprises. In 1552, he left Goa heading to China and died of fever. His body was later brought to Goa and finally laid to rest in the Church of Bom Jesus. St Francis Xavier was canonised by the Pope in 1621.

From the chronicles of Alexander Hamilton in the book ” Goa Travels ” edited by Manohar Shetty; as a story goes…..” The Pope asked the right arm from the body of St Francis Xavier be sent to him. Accordingly, the right arm was cut off and sent to Rome. The Pope called for pen, ink and paper to be brought on a table and set the arm near them. Then by magic the Saint’s hand took hold of the pen, dipped it in the ink and wrote Xavier on the paper in full view of those present. ” 

The history of Goa would be incomplete without a mention of the Inquisition (1560 – 1812); introduced to Goa at the behest of St. Francis Xavier. The Portuguese married the local women and Francis Xavier noted that the women were worshipping the Hindu deities. He wanted the Inquisition to prevent the Portuguese from being drawn into the pagan worship and the baptised from lapsing into heresy.

The horrors of Inquisition were directed against the Christians and the converts if they relapsed and often used by the powerful men and clergy to satisfy their private vengeance and hatred. The accused were thrown in prison and burnt to death

The last of the religious edifices (or what remains of it) we saw was the Church St. Augustine. In the chronicles of J Albert de Mendelslo in the book ” Goa Travels” this is referred to as monastery of the Augustines also known as the Convent of our Lady of Grace. From the height of the lone tower, we can only image what an imposing structure this must have been.

Church St. Augustine, Old Goa
Church St. Augustine, Old Goa

As per the Goa Tourism website ” The Tower and Church were built in 1602 by the Augustinian friars who arrived in Goa in 1587. The church was abandoned in 1835 due to the repressive policies of the Portuguese government, which resulted in the eviction of many religious orders from Goa.

The church fell into neglect and the vault collapsed in 1842. The body of the church was soon destroyed, but the facade remained intact. The tower’s huge bell was moved in 1871 to the Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, where it remains and can be seen and heard today. In 1931, the facade and half the tower fell down, followed by more sections in 1938 leaving only half the tower that is seen and visited by thousands of tourists today. ”

Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim
Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim

But there is an even fantastic story of a Georgian Queen associated with this magnificent ruin of St. Augustine in Old Goa …..the story goes like this…

Queen Ketevan was the dowager queen of Kakheti, a kingdom of Georgia. After the death of her husband, the king, her kingdom was invaded by Persian king, Shah Abbas I.

Having easily conquered the kingdom, he took the Queen prisoner and she languished in Iran for almost a decade. In 1624, she was served an ultimatum by Shah Abbas I, she could convert to Islam and join his harem, or be tortured and executed. The Queen chose to die for her faith.

Accordingly, she was tortured and having her flesh torn off with the use of red hot pincers before being strangled to death. This took place on the 1624.

She was then buried, without ceremony. However she had, in her last days, befriended two Augustinian monks. These faithful men dug up her remains, smuggled them out of the country and brought them to Goa. An ancient Portuguese document suggests that the remains were entombed in a black sarcophagus and kept in the window embrasure of the convent of the Augustinian monks in Goa. The clue was probably obtained from a huge 1958 collation by Silva Rego of historical documents relating to Portuguese missions in the East.

However, when the convent and church were abandoned and fell into disrepair, many of the relics were looted and plundered. The remains of the good Queen were similarly thought to have been lost. However, recent archaeological excavations have resulted in the discovery of an arm bone and other bone fragments as well as the remains of a black box in 2006. After DNA testing, these bones are believed to be the remains of Queen Ketevan. 

The relics have been taken to Georgia with much fanfare and it was Queen Ketevan act of bravery that led many in Georgia to hold stead-fast to the Christian faith.

Ruins of the monastery of the Augustines in Old Goa
Ruins of the monastery of the Augustines in Old Goa

The Archaeological museum of Goa closed by 5:30 pm, we missed it.

Archaeological museum of Goa
Archaeological museum of Goa

The itinerary for the sight-seeing in Goa is outlined in the post Goa in October : An itinerary to explore Goa in 2 days 🚗💨

More in the next post !!

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