Old Goa (Velha Goa)
Old Goa, 9km east of Panaji on the bank of the Mandovi River, was once the capital of the Indian Portuguese territories. There is not much left of the old city. What remains are the interesting 16th and 17th centuries churches and cathedrals. Old Goa was granted World Heritage Status by UNESCO. Many Indian Christian pilgrims come here to see the tomb of St Francis Xavier, the famous 16th century missionary whose body was laid to rest in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Most people visit this place for the day and stay in Panaji or at one of the local beaches.
There are no accommodations in Old Goa. Old Goa is on the road between Panaji and Ponda.
Old Goa was founded as a port town by the Vijayanagar and Bahmani kings. It later became the second capital of Adil Shah, the ruler of Bijapur. At that time, it was surrounded by a wall and a moat and contained the Shah’s palace, mosques, and some temples. Nothing remains of these structures except part of the gateway to the palace.
In the 16th century, Old Goa became the capital of the Portuguese territories in India and grew to a population of about 200,000 despite the epidemic in 1543. Its streets were compared to Lisbon, and it was as large as London or Paris at one time.
Old Goa was virtually abandoned after malaria and cholera epidemics killed many people in the city in the 17th century. The population went from 20,000 in 1700 to 1,500 in 1775. The viceroy moved to the former palace of Adil Shah (the present Secretariat) in Panaji. In 1835, after the government forced the repression of religious orders, much of the city was deserted. The capital of Goa was officially moved to Panaji in 1843. By the end of the 19th century, its population consisted of mainly priests and nuns.
Old Goa, by S Rajagopalan, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, is a good book about the sites in Old Goa. It can be purchased at the Archaeological Museum in the back of Sé Cathedral.
The monuments are open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is no entry fee.
Sé Cathedral (St Catherine’s Cathedral)
Construction on the Cathedral was begun by the Portuguese viceroy Redondo (1561-64) in 1562, and was not finished for another ninety years. The building was completed in 1619, but the altar was not finished until 1652. It may be the largest church in Asia. It is 35m (115 ft) high, 76m (250 ft) long, and 56m (185 ft) wide. The church was dedicated to the saint on whose day the city was recaptured by the Portuguese in 1510.
The immense interior of the Cathedral is constructed in the Corinthian-style, and the exterior is Tuscan. It has gigantic pillars. The magnificent main altar, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, has intricately carved frames and a superb crucifix. On the altar are old paintings depicting scenes from St Catherine’s life (died 307). The Roman emperor Maxim wanted to marry her. She refused and was flogged to death, attaining the death of a Christian martyr.
On either side of the main altar are wooden statues of St Paul and St Peter. Near the altar is the throne of the Archbishop and the seat of the Canon. There is a baptismal font in the side chapel to the right after entering, which is believed to have been used by St Francis.
There are three altars on each side of the main altar. To the left, the three altars are dedicated from left to right as follows: Altar of Our Lady of Hope, Altar of Our Lady of Three Necessities, and Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. To the right, the three altars are dedicated from right to left: Altar of St Peter, Chapel of St Doloures, and Altar of St Anne. On the altar of St Anne are the remains of the Blessed Martyrs of Cuncolim, who tried to convert the Mughal emperor Akbar and who were killed by Muslims. On the arches of these altars are paintings depicting pastimes of the lives of these saints.
There are four chapels on each side of the church. On the left from front to back is the Chapels of the Our Lady of Life, Blessed Sacrament, St Sebastian, and Our Lady of Virtues. On the right from front to back are the Chapels to the Holy Spirit, the Cross of Miracles, St Bernard and St Anthony.
The Miraculous Cross, in a chapel behind an intricate screen, is believed to have had a vision of Christ appear on it when it was located in a Goan village. It is said to be able to heal the sick. It is kept in a box with a hole on one side so that it can be touched.
There used to be two towers, but one collapsed. In the remaining southern tower is the Golden Bell, made in the 17th century in Cuncolin in South Goa. It received its name because of its rich sound. It is rung at 5:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 6:30 pm. During the inquisition it would be rung to announce the beginning of the auto da fes that were held in the square in front. There are goodviews from the top of the tower.
Southwest of the Cathedral is the site where the Palace of the Inquisition was located. It was used until 1774 and is now in ruins. Dungeons were underground. Between 1561 and 1774, over 16,000 cases were tried here. In 1814, the Inquisition was stopped.
St Francis of Assisi Church and Archeological Museum
West of the Cathedral (behind it) is the Convent and Church of St Francis of Assisi, one of the most interesting buildings in the town. Franciscan monks built the original church in 1517. It was later dismantled and the present church was built in its place in 1661, and restored in 1762. The church faces west.
The church has a beautiful gilded main altar, with a large statue of St Francis of Assisi and another of Jesus on the Cross. Below these two are inscribed the vows of a saint: humility, obedience, and poverty. On either side of the main altar are paintings depicting the life of St Francis. There are two altars on each side of it, and three chapels on each side of the church. The church has two towers, gilded and carved woodwork, a floor made of carved gravestones (dating back to the 16th century), and paintings depicting the life of St Francis around the High Altar.
The outside of the church is constructed according to the Tuscan style, and the main entrance is built in the Manuline style. The main altar is Baraque with Corinthian features.
The Archeological Museum in back of the church used to be a Franciscan monastery. The museum contains portraits of Portuguese viceroys, painted by local artists under the direction of Italian artists, wooden Christian sculptures, coins, and Hindu sculptures from temples in Goa dating from the 12th and 13th century Kadamba period. There is a 3.6m high bronze statue of Albuquerque in the entrance hall, which was cast while he was still alive. In the entrance to the museum are old maps of Goa. There is a 3m high bronze statue of Luiz de Camoes(1524-80), Portugal’s national poet. He holds in his hands the scrolls of his poem, Lusiads, which describes Vasco da Gama’s journey from Portugal to India and back. The statue was originally installed in the garden in 1960. Open daily except Fri and holidays 10 am to noon and 1 to 5 pm. Admission is free.
Chapel of St Catherine
This chapel, directly west of (next to) St Francis of Assisi Church, marks the place where Albuquerque built the first church in Old Goa in 1510. The chapel was enlarged in 1550 and rebuilt in 1952. A plaque taken from the original chapel is set in the wall of the present building. The chapel is usually closed and you can only see the outside.
Arch of the Viceroys and Gate of Adil Shah
The Arch of the Viceroys (1597) was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s landing in India by his great-grandson Francisco da Gama, who was viceroy from 1597 to 1600. Above it is a figure holding a Bible and placing his foot on a cringing figure. There is also a statue of Vasco da Gama. It is northeast of the Sé Cathedral on the road going to the Mandovi River. It was completely rebuilt in 1954.
The Gate of Adil Shah’s palace was built before the Portuguese period. It is located just left (north) of the road leading to the Church of St Cajetan. It is about 3m high. The palace of Adil Shah was a magnificent building. The Portuguese governors lived there until 1695. Over the years, the palace fell apart and was eventually demolished in 1820.
Church of St Cajetan
This domed church was modeled after St Peter’s in Rome. It was built by monks of the Theatine order, who were sent to preach Christianity by Pope Urban III in the kingdom of Golconda (near Hyderabad). They were not allowed to preach in Golconda, so they came to Goa in 1640. These monks never requested charity, but accepted what came to them, depending on Divine Providence. This church is across from the Sé Cathedral, and is set back from the road.
Construction was begun in 1655 and the exterior is built in the Corinthian style. It also has some non-European designs, such as cashew-nut carvings on the pulpit. The highly carved main altar at the east end is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence. There are some paintings in the church depicting the life of St Cajetan. There are six other altars. The altars on the left from front to back are dedicated to the Holy Family, Our Lady of Piety, and St Claire. The altars on the right from front to back are dedicated to St Agnes, St Cajetan and St John.
Beneath the church is a crypt which used to contain the remains of former Portuguese governors. These were kept in lead coffins before being sent back to Portugal. The last three bodies were removed in 1992, just before the Portuguese President, Mario Soares, visited Goa.
Basilica of Bom Jesus and Tomb of St Francis Xavier
This church, begun in 1594 and finished in 1605, contains the tomb of St Francis Xavier. It became the first church in India to become a Minor Basilica (1964). Bom means “Good”. The outside of the church is in the Doric and Corinthian styles. The interior of the church is in the Classical orders of the Renaissance, and the altars are in the Baroque style.
After entering, you pass under the choir, which is supported by columns. To the right is an altar dedicated to St Anthony, and on the left is a beautiful statue of St Francis Xavier. The main altar is beautifully gilded and decorated with gold. It has beautiful twisted columns. Infant Jesus is depicted under the care of St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. On each side are subsidiary altars dedicated to Our Lady of Hope and St Michael. Around the church are the letters IHS, a characteristically Jesuit symbol and the first three letters of Jesus in Greek.
On the northern wall is the bronze gilded cenotaph of Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas, the Captain of Cochin, who was the church’s benefactor.
To the right (south) of the main altar is the Chapel of St Francis Xavier. The saint’s body was brought here in 1613 and moved to its present chapel in 1655. The chapel has twisted gilded columns and floral carvings.
The Tomb of St Francis Xavier was completed in 1698, taking ten years in construction. The base of the tomb is made of marble and jasper. On the sides of tomb are four bronze panels depicting events from his life. Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, sponsored the tomb, and it was designed and constructed by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Batista Foggini. The silver casket containing the saint’s body has glass sides, and you can view his body through them. The casket has three locks on it, the keys of which are held by the Arch-Bishop, the Governor, and the Convent Administration. On the walls of the chapel are wood carvings and paintings depicting the saint’s activities. On December 3, his feast day, his finger is displayed to the public.
Next to the chapel of St Francis Xavier is a hallway leading to the sacristy. On the walls are paintings of various saints. On the altar in the sacristy is a golden rose which was blessed by Pope Pius XII and gifted to the city in 1953.
There is a modern art gallery upstairs (closed Fri). It has paintings depicting the life of St Francis. From there you can also look down upon the tomb of St Francis within the chapel. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is open Mon to Sat 9 am to 6.30 pm, Sun 10:30 am to 6:30 pm.
The House for the Jesuit Fathers (the Professed House) is next to the church (1585). It has a courtyard garden. It was used as a monastic quarter until it was destroyed in 1633. It was then partially rebuilt in 1783. A few Jesuit fathers stay there.
St Francis Xavier
The “Apostle of India,” Francis Xavier, was born of noble parents in the old kingdom of Navarre, now part of Spain, on April 7, 1506. He went to Paris in 1525 and received a master’s degree in theology and philosophy from the University of Paris. He then studied for the priesthood until 1535 and was ordained two years later in Venice on June 2, 1537. He was enlisted along with five other priests into the new “Society of Jesus,” founded by Ignatius Loyola. This society later became known as the Jesuits.
Francis Xavier was sent to India by Ignatius Loyola at the request of the Portuguese king, Dom Joao III (1521–57), after he heard of the loose behavior of the Portuguese in Goa. After a year’s journey, he arrived in India in May 1542 and took charge of the Goan diocese, which consisted of all the areas controlled by the Portuguese east of the Cape of Good Hope. He is said to have converted over 30,000 people to Christianity, established many churches, raised the dead, and healed the sick by touching them with his beads. He traveled to Sri Lanka, China, Japan, and Malacca (Malaysia).
While traveling by boat to China, he got dysentery and died on the island of San Chuan (Sancian), off the Chinese coast on December 3, 1552 at the age of 46, ten years after his arrival in Goa. His body was buried in Sancian and later taken to Malacca. Even though the grave was filled with lime, the body was in perfect condition. Later, his body was again removed and taken to Goa on March 16, 1554. St Francis was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. The body was then placed in the chapel in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Parts of Saint Francis’ body have been removed as relics. In 1554, a Portuguese woman is said to have bitten off one of his toes. In 1615, part of his right arm was taken to Rome and placed in the Church of Gesu. Part of the right hand was taken to Japan in 1916. Parts of the intestines were removed and distributed to various places in Southeast Asia. In 1890, one of his toes fell off. It is kept in a crystal case in the Sacristy of the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
At first, St Francis’ body was displayed to the public every year on the anniversary of his death. Then for thirty-six years, from 1707 to 1743, his body was not displayed. From 1744 to 1751, the body was only displayed to the governor. The first public display of Saint Francis’ body began again in 1752. Since then, more or less every ten years, Saint Francis’ body has been displayed to the public. During the 1994 Ceremony, over two million people attended. The body of St Francis Xavier was taken in a three-hour ceremony from the Basilica of Bom Jesus to the Sé Cathedral.
Opposite Bom Jesus, on Holy Hill, are some other important religious buildings. The three-storey Convent and Church of St Monica, completed in 1627, was the only Goan convent of the time and was the largest one in Southeast Asia. It is a huge building, built around a courtyard which contained a formal garden. It was destroyed by fire in 1636, and rebuilt the next year. About one hundred nuns once lived here, and they were known as the Daughters of St Monica. Women whose husbands had left to travel also stayed at the convent. It was called the Royal Monastery.
Next to the convent is a church containing a Miraculous Cross above the figure of St Monica on the altar. It is said that in 1636 the figure of Christ on this cross opened his eyes, motioned as to speak, and blood flowed from the wounds made from his crown of thorns. The nuns attended mass in the choir loft because they were not supposed to be seen by the public. The last Daughter of St Monica died in 1885, and the convent has been occupied by the Mater Dei Institute for nuns since 1964.
Nearby, the Church and Convent of St John of God was built in 1685 by the Order of Hospitallers of St John of God to take care of the sick. It was rebuilt in 1953.
The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary on top of the hill was built in 1549, which makes it the oldest complete building still left in Old Goa. It has a two-storey entrance and a tower giving a good view of the area across the Mandovi River. The main altar of the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. There is a finely carved marble plaque on the side wall, which commemorates the first Portuguese woman to arrive in Goa, Dona Catarina. Her marriage to Viceroy Garcia De Sa was performed by St Francis Xavier.
Higher up on the hill are the ruins of the Church of St Angustine(1543) and the Tower of St Augustine. The only thing really left of the church is a 46m high tower. The church was built in 1602 by Augustinian monks who came to Goa in 1587. It was abandoned in 1835, after the Portuguese government threw out many religious orders from Goa.
The Royal Chapel of St Anthony, to the west of the Tower of St Augustine, is dedicated to St Anthony, the national saint of Portugal. It was built in the beginning of the 17th century. It was completely restored by the Portuguese government in 1961.