One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Goa was its connection with my hometown, Melaka in Malaysia. The connections or similarities are: Portuguese rule, Portuguese community and St. Francis Xavier.
Melaka or Malacca was ruled by the Portuguese from 1511 to 1641. During the 130-year colonial rule, the Portuguese inter-married with the local Malay population, and their descendants are now referred to as Portuguese-Eurasian or “Kristang” in Malaysia. Majority of them are Catholics, and they still maintain Portuguese surnames such as Fernandes, Sequiera, De Souza, Pinto and so on. Although the Portuguese-Eurasians are now living all over Malaysia and have inter-married with other ethnic groups, the Kristang group originally established in a small fishing village in Malacca – the Portuguese Settlement – still remains a thriving community (my parents’ home is just 15 minutes’ walk from Portuguese Settlement :-))
The other similarity between Goa and Malacca is St. Francis Xavier who arrived in 1545 and used Malacca as a transit point for his missionary work in the Far East. When he died in China in 1552, he was initially buried on Shangchuan Island, Guangdong but was taken from the island and temporarily buried in St. Paul’s Church in Malacca in 1553. Shortly after, St Francis Xavier’s incorrupt body was removed, brought to Goa, and is now in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa ever since.
Coming back to India…Old Goa is about 45-50 minutes from Anjuna, and was the capital of Goa from 16th century until 18th century when it was entirely abandoned as a result of a plague. Today, much of the city is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to many convents and beautiful churches, one of which is the Basilica.
Basilica Bom Jesus (Bom Jesus means Good Jesus) is a Jesuit church known for its baroque architecture in India. It is, no doubt, a major tourist attraction mainly because of the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier buried in a silver casket and kept in the Basilica. The sacred relics of the saint are displayed to the public on his death anniversary every 10 years. The last display was in 2014.
The interiors of the Basilica are actually simple with the exception of the main altar richly decorated in gilt. The altar has the figure of Infant Jesus and an imposing 3-metre high statue of St Ignatius of Loyola who was a very close friend of St Francis Xavier and both founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
Across the road from the Basilica lies the largest cathedral in India, one of the largest churches in Asia and one of the oldest religious buildings in Goa – Se Cathedral. The name of the cathedral is actually Se Catedral de Santa Cantarina, and the cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese under Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1510 which led to the capture of the city of Goa from the Muslim army (and de Albuquerque conquered Malacca in 1511!). Since that victory happened on the feast day of St Catherine, the cathedral was dedicated to her, Catherine of Alexandria.
When I walked into the cathedral, I wasn’t sure if it was indeed open for public prayer and worship because there were a number of restoration works going on inside the cathedral. Restoration artists were perched precariously on ladders, painstakingly cleaning and brushing the statues and paintings.
Behind Se Cathedral is the Archaelogical Museum Church, Convent of St. Francis of Assisi and the Chapel of St Catherine. I wanted to enter the convent but due to restoration or refurbishment works, they did not allow the public to enter. The Archaelogical Museum was open but I wasn’t interested – the galleries exhibit postage stamps, wooden sculptures, portraits of Portuguese Governors and Viceroys of colonial Goa.
After a few hours of exploring churches and taking lots of photographs, I left Old Goa and moved on to Panaji or Panjim, the state capital, only 25 minutes’ away. I spent some time in Fountainhas, the old Latin Quarter which maintains its Portuguese influence. Although it was interesting to meander through the narrow streets of Fountainhas, admiring the Indo-Portuguese old villas and buildings, I found them to be “perfectly restored” but some have lost a bit of the rustic feel to it. I didn’t expect the buildings to be dilapidated either but the transformation turned out to be more modern compared to the ones I saw in Margao. Later I realised that many of these buildings were converted into B&B, art galleries and fine dining restaurants, hence, the modern facelift.
So I have had enough of churches and heritage quarters for the day, it was time for me to do some shopping in Panjim as my trip in Goa was coming to an end. I had to return to Mumbai the next day to catch a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. After some souvenir and book shopping (yes, I love books! :-)), and some samosas and chai, I decided to call it a day and to return to Anjuna. But before that, one more church to stop by…and that’s the Panjim Church or Church of My Lady of Immaculate Conception. Unfortunately, it was closed so I only took a photo from across the street….