Goa and Catholicism in India

49 comments
Asia, India, South
The 16th-Century Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

The 16th-Century Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Chapter 4, Part 1

For more than a millennium the area known today as Goa had been ruled by different clans, dynasties, kingdoms and sultanates before Vijayanagara took control of it in the 14th century. The once mighty southern Indian empire eventually relented control of the territory to its archrival: the Deccan sultanates. In the early 16th century, however, a new player from the other side of the world joined the perennial battle of control over Goa.

At the time when Krishna Deva Raya was the king of Vijayanagara, a privateer by the name of Timoji convinced the Portuguese conqueror, Afonso de Albuquerque, to fight the Bijapur sultanate in Goa. Against the order from King Manuel I of Portugal to only conquer Aden, Hormuz and Malacca, Albuquerque reached Goa and successfully repelled the Muslim forces in 1510. Upon their victory the Portuguese transferred their colonial capital in India from Cochin to Goa and built a more powerful Estado Português da Índia which would last until the 20th century.

Having been under the alternating influences of Hindu and Muslim rulers, Goa became the center of Catholic teaching in India following the Portuguese conquest. It was the Fransiscans who first settled in the new European colony in Asia. However in the mid-16th century King João (John) III of Portugal, concerned about the news that the majority of the Portuguese settlers in India were drifting away from Christianity, sent Francis Xavier – a Jesuit – to preach the gospels both to the Portuguese and the locals. He traveled further in the Orient to do missionary work in places as far as the Spice Islands and Japan.

Decades after Francis Xavier’s arrival in Goa, construction work on a new church began. Completed in the early 17th century the Basilica of Bom Jesus further cemented the Jesuits’ presence in India, and it is today where the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier reside, contained within an ornate casket. At the lavishly-decorated altar, a giant statue of St. Ignatius Loyola, who co-founded the Society of Jesus with six other men including Francis Xavier himself, looks up to Heaven.

The Church was Built to Welcome Sailors Home

The Church was Built to Welcome Sailors Home

An Old Colonial Building in Panaji (Panjim)

An Old Colonial Building in Panaji (Panjim)

Old Building

A Portuguese Colonial Building in Fontainhas

Portuguese Colonial Houses

Portuguese Colonial Houses

The Early 17th-Century Bom Jesus Basilica

The Early 17th-Century Bom Jesus Basilica

Interior of the Basilica

Interior of the Basilica

St. Ignatius Loyola, One of the Founders of the Jesuits

St. Ignatius Loyola, One of the Founders of the Society of Jesus

The Remains of St. Francis Xavier, One of the Greatest Catholic Missionaries

The Remains of St. Francis Xavier, One of the Greatest Catholic Missionaries

Highly Ornate Altars in the Basilica

Highly Ornate Altars in the Basilica

Central Courtyard of the Basilica

Central Courtyard of the Basilica

Marigold Garlands around A Statue of St. Francis Xavier

Marigold Garlands around A Statue of St. Francis Xavier

In the centuries that followed, many more churches were built in Velha Goa (Old Goa), including Se Cathedral which was constructed to commemorate Portuguese victory over the Bijapur sultanate almost a century earlier. A fragment of the gate of the Adil Shahi palace was one of the few surviving remnants of Goa’s previous Muslim rulers and it currently lies unassumingly at the grounds of the Church of St. Catejan, a 17th-century church modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

In 1843 the capital of Portuguese Goa was transferred to Panjim, a little over 10 km to the west of Velha Goa, the old capital. It remained the seat of Portuguese colonial administration in the Indian subcontinent until 1961 when India annexed Goa, Daman and Diu, ending 450 years of Portuguese administration in South Asia and severing diplomatic ties between India and Portugal. Following the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which ended the fascist regime in Portugal and restored democracy in the country, relations with India were rectified.

Today centuries of Portuguese colonization of Goa is still very much evident in daily life. A hotel owner in Fontainhas – home to some of the most preserved colonial buildings in Panjim – recalls his childhood memories with a mood known in the Portuguese-speaking world as saudade. He recounts how Catholics made up 60% of the population back then, and how Goan business hour is very different from that of Indian. “Business starts at 10am until 1pm, then 4pm until 7pm,” he says. “But for the Indians it’s 24 hours.” His somber sentiment could be a real discontentment, or quite possibly only saudade.

After a short walk from our hotel, James and I ascend the steps in front of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception where the cacophony of modern Panjim unfolds before our eyes. The church was constructed in the mid-16th century to welcome sailors home, and it is today a peaceful sanctuary for those who seek divine guidance or merely to escape the scorching sun. Customarily footwear must be removed upon entering the church, shoulders and ankles must be covered, and silence must be observed. The churches across Goa not only are a reminder of one of the longest colonial administrations in Asia, but also a testament to a community who retain the faith introduced to them almost five centuries ago.

Se Cathedral (right) and Church of St. Francis of Assisi

Se Cathedral (right) and Church of St. Francis of Assisi

The 17th-Century Se Cathedral in Old Goa

The 17th-Century Se Cathedral in Old Goa

A Catholic Mandapam

A Catholic Mandapam

Interior of the Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral

A Locked Altar inside the Cathedral

A Restricted Altar inside the Cathedral

Church of St. Catejan, Modeled After St. Peter's Basilica

Church of St. Catejan, Modeled After St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

Intricately-Carved Wooden Altar inside Church of St. Catejan

Intricately-Carved Altar inside the Church of St. Catejan

What is Left from the Palace of Adil Shah, the Former Muslim Ruler of Goa

What Remains from the Palace of Adil Shah, the Former Muslim Ruler of Goa

Ruins of the Church of St. Augustine

Ruins of the Church of St. Augustine

Conserved Portuguese Tiles amid the Ruins

Conserved Portuguese Tiles amid the Ruins

St. Sebastian Chapel in Fontainhas

St. Sebastian Chapel in Fontainhas

Vestiges of Portuguese Rule in Goa

Vestiges of Portuguese Administration in Goa

Click here for the full list of stories from the Spice Odyssey series.

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

49 thoughts on “Goa and Catholicism in India”

  1. Bama would I be correct in that you are putting together a travel book? I would think with your vast research of history and culture and gorgeous images such as these it would be a wonderful and well received project.

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    • That’s my long-term goal, Sue. But realistically, with work and everything else, blogging is the most I can do for now. However, as I blog, my scattered memories are put into more structured accounts, which might be useful one day. Thank you for the very encouraging and heartfelt comment, Sue!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Apart from the UNESCO World Heritage status, the fact that many Goans are Catholic help preserve those churches. Thanks for reading, Mallee.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Luar biasa cantiknya ya Goa ini…
    Jadi inget waktu ke Macau dan Malacca cerita St. Francis Xavier, sampai kisah tangannya yang terpotong itu…
    BTW, Goa itu ada di India atau Eropa sih? Dari foto-fotonya mas Bama kayak engga di India yaa.. 😀 😀 😀

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    • Nah dua postingan saya berikutnya pas banget mengenai Malaka dan Macau. Menelusuri jejak orang-orang penting zaman dulu memang selain mengasyikkan juga suka bikin merinding. Btw mbak, nantikan postingan saya mengenai Pondicherry ya. Itu tambah gak kayak India sama sekali menurut saya.

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  3. Another place I’ve wanted to visit, and you’ve added to its allure! We have good friends whose families come from this area, and we’ve heard so many good things. Your photos and history certainly enhance that appeal!

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    • When you visit Goa, I recommend staying in the Fontainhas area. It’s a nice and quiet neighborhood with many Portuguese colonial buildings. Oh and don’t miss Goan food! You’d notice the Portuguese influence in the local dishes. Glad you enjoyed this post, Lex.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You don’t think of Catholicism in India and I didn’t realize that area was 60% Catholic at one time. Interesting. Panjim was one of my favorite towns in India and certainly one of the most unique. The food there was some of my favorite too. I remember eating a shrimp curry at a place near the church that blew my mind.

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    • A few weeks before arriving in Goa, we met a woman from Goa at a cooking class in Penang, Malaysia. She recommended Panjim to us, and I’m glad we ended up staying in the neighborhood. Did you have that shrimp curry near that church in Fontainhas? There was a really nice restaurant not far from it, located at a narrow alley. The food there was amazing!

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      • We had shrimp curry at a place opposite the church a little. I think it opened to the main street though. Although I really love the vegetarian Indian food, Goa was the first place we’d had fish or shrimp in about a month so that was a nice change.

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      • Ah I think I know which dish you’re talking about. The curries we had in Goa were all amazing, and together with Keralan food they were among the best dishes we had on our trip to India.

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      • Indian food is my favorite, followed closely by Thai food. I preferred the food of the north, like aloo mutter, dal fry, palak paneer, and my favorite chana masala. I did really like those dosas in the south. And nothing beats a samosa for street food. I could totally be a vegetarian and eat nothing but good Indian food the rest of my life!

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      • When it comes to potato, I really loved aloo gobi. Oh and I also enjoyed eating chaat — some kind of snack from the north. Indians do know how to cook delicious dishes only with vegetables, although I have to confess I missed having meat after a while.

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    • Thank you so much, Peta. Goa was one of the most intriguing places I visited in India on my trip to the country last year.

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    • Hi Nathalia. The basilica not only was indeed very pretty, both from the outside and the inside. Hope you’ll get the chance to pray there sooner than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Those tiles are beautiful! And the interior of the basilica is so surprisingly pretty and elegant, in contrast to the odd square shape of the outside. Great post Bama!

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    • I was, too, pleasantly surprised when I entered the basilica. But I was also amused to see marigold around the statue of St. Francis Xavier — as opposed to the Hindu gods. Thanks Kelly!

      Liked by 1 person

      • What I don’t understand is the fact that there are many people who prefer conflict to peaceful co-existence. The world does need more love.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Omg, your words Bama. So true. Seems like there are so many cultures of hatred and violence that do prefer conflict. It’s like it gives them purpose or something. And yes, love is FREE! And everywhere! But we do always need more.

        Liked by 1 person

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  7. Bama, this is such a beautiful post – it only makes me wish we had the chance to spend more time in Goa. If we’d stayed a full week I’m sure we could have seen some of the Portuguese forts, learned a couple of Goan recipes (I adored the xacuti as you know), and maybe even returned to Velha Goa a second time. The scale and beauty of those churches was mind-boggling, and it was a moving experience to visit the tomb of a saint I’d heard so much about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks James. Too bad you had a problem with your stomach as we arrived in Goa, but at least you tried some amazing dishes there. It was really nice walking around Velha Goa to explore those beautiful churches, and we went just at the right time as it was mostly sunny during our stay in Goa. I’m glad Goa was our first stop in our one-month trip across southern India!

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  8. devanjanc says:

    Very well written. Goa is one of my favourite places and the old world charm only adds to it

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    • I really appreciate your kind words. Goa is reaping benefits from its commitment to preserve its heritage buildings. Other cities and regions should learn from it.

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    • Sebenernya mayoritasnya Hindu, sama seperti kebanyakan negara bagian di India. Tapi memang jumlah pemeluk Katoliknya cukup signifikan. Oiya, kamu suka bangunan kolonial kan Nug? Postingan saya di weekend ini mengenai Pondicherry yang banyak banget bangunan peninggalan Prancis-nya. Tapi overall sih bangunan-bangunan di Goa lebih megah memang.

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      • I see. Jadi pemeluk Katolik di Goa lebih besar persentasenya daripada di negara bagian lain ya.
        Iya, mas. Suka bangunan kolonial. Makanya habis baca tulisan Chennai dan ada suggested page ke Catholicism in Goa, langsung meluncur 😀
        Sip, langsung baca tulisan Pondicherry itu.

        Liked by 1 person

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