No doubt, Goa is known for being the party capital of India and therefore becomes a compelling destination for those who love to get soaked in the sun and sand of this fun-loving state. Partygoers love Goa but there is also more on offer if you are fascinated by the richness of heritage this place is blessed with. Churches of Goa are not only landmarks but have a great deal of historical legacy attached to them. There are various reasons tourists are attracted to these churches and the prime reason being for seeking spiritual insight while others seek solace through blessings. One can only wonder at the splendor of the churches’ architecture and the sheer size of these religious edifices which are holy places of worship.
Therefore, Goa’s churches are part of its heritage and are a major source of attraction for tourists. Most tour operators and even the state-run Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) include church visits as part of their tour packages. Goa can be visited all round the year but if you are here in December then you’ll have seen everything that Goan churches have to offer. The Christmas festivities can best be enjoyed with church visits, which is a must if you want to understand the culture and heritage of this tiny state. Also, it gives you an insight into the religious harmony of Goa.
The decoration, the lighting and the pomp with which people celebrate Christmas are a delight to all. Even the event which marks the feast of St Francis Xavier, where believers from all over the world gather to celebrate the death anniversary of the revered saint, falls on the 3rd of December. It’s a state holiday then. The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa houses the silver casket and has the mortal remains of the saint, who is also referred to as “Goencho Saib” (or the Lord of Goa) and he is worshiped by many. Both north and south Goa have some of the most serene and artistic churches that are modelled on some of the famous churches found in Rome. Little wonder why Goa is aptly named as the ‘Rome of the East.’
Here’s a glance at ten best churches in Goa:
Basilica of Bom Jesus:
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most renowned and famous churches in Goa and is located at Old Goa. This structure is already classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for being a great example of Baroque architecture – reminiscent of Baroque era which began in the late 16th-century in Italy. This church is supposed to be one of Goa’s oldest churches and is a holy place. The name Bom Jesus actually means ‘infant Jesus’ and the Latin word basilica means a Roman Public Building meant for public functions. This Goan Basilica is certainly an architectural marvel as it is decorated with many precious stones where the flooring is designed with marble.
Historically, this edifice is a 400-year old place of worship and is a resting place of St. Francis Xavier, whose mortal remains are kept here in a the silver casket. Referred to as “Goencho Saib” the saint is showcased to public every ten years. This place becomes a huge gathering of people from across Goa and also from abroad as carnivals and small fairs mark the death anniversary of St. Francis Xavier which is celebrated every year on 3rd December. The place actually becomes a pilgrimage site. Built in 1605, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is famous for the silver casket which contains the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier.
Also located in Old Goa, Se Cathedral is the largest church in Goa. Built in the year 1510, this world-famous church is dedicated to Saint Catherine. The white structure is so beautiful that it took almost 80 years to build it. When you take a look at this church from a distance you will notice that something is missing because of its asymmetrical shape. A closer look and one of the bell towers is missing. In fact, it was a lightning storm that played a part in eliminating one of the tower and the Se Cathedral got its lop-sided. As per recorded history this church was built to celebrate the victory of Alfonso, a Portuguese ruler. The specialty of this church is the Golden Bell which is the largest bell a church has in the state and more significantly its sound can be heard in the entire town of Old Goa.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi:
Another stunning architectural masterpiece at Old Goa, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi is in existence for over 350 years. Built in 1661, the construction is a mix of Baroque, Tuscan and Corinthian styles and gives you an idea of the lavish lifestyle that existed in Goa many centuries ago. The beauty of this church is such that it stands out in comparison to other churches in town. The highlight of this church is the paintings beautifying the wall which give an insight into the life of St Francis Assisi. The woodwork is also intricate and the designing has also been done neatly and no doubt that it’s a charming UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a tabernacle placed in the church which has the statues of St. Francis of Assisi and Christ.
Church of St. Cajetan:
This church is located in Goa Velha and is also known as the Church of Divine Providence. The stand out feature of this church is that its construction has been inspired by the original design of Basilica in Rome. The church’s construction was completed in 1661 and is a part of the World Heritage Site of Goa. When you enter the church you will be stunned by its beauty where there are six altars with brilliant carvings on it and therefore is a visual treat. By looking at this church one will never believe this church is a 17th-century creation. By stepping in you will get a feeling of being in Rome. There are three altars on each side of the entrance and on the right is the altar of Saint Cajetan which is placed on the right.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception:
This church is the charm of capital city Panjim and is perched on a hilltop with crisscross stairs leading to the church. It’s a famous church that conducts daily mass in Portuguese, English and Konkani. The present-day church was once a chapel and houses the marble statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. The main altar is of Mother Mary and the remaining two depict the crucifixion of Jesus and Our Lady of Rosary. December 8 marks the annual festival, popularly known as Panaji Fest when this church is brightly illuminated, which adds to the night glory. This church was built in 1541. The stand out feature of this church is a big bell tower placed inside it which is Goa’s second largest after Se Cathedral.
Chapel of St. Catherine:
This is a small but good-looking chapel, placed near the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa and is a major tourist attraction. Dedicated to St. Catherine, Alfanso De Albuquerque was instrumental in building the chapel way back in 1510 which marked his victory over the then local Muslim ruler Adil Shah. This triumph was achieved on St. Catherine’s Day which fell on 25th November 1510. Twenty-four years later, Pope Paul III granted the chapel a cathedral status. And, as recent as in 1952 when the Portuguese rule was still in existence in Goa, the chapel was rebuilt using laterite blocks. The inscriptions on the stone slabs are the highlight of this place.
Church of Our Lady of Rosary:
This church is considered as the oldest church in Goa and has also been earmarked as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Legend says that this holy place of worship was chosen by St Francis Xavier to deliver his maiden sermon while on his Goa sojourn. This church has a simple design and stands on top of the Monte Santo (Holy Hill) as it keeps watch over Old Goa. Built in 1543, the church’s construction resembles Renaissance architecture. In the church is the tombstone of Garcia de Sa, one of Goa’s early governors. You can also find a Cenotaph (a cenotaph is an empty tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person) of Dona Catarina, the wife of the governor who was married to him at the moment of her death. There’s an air of peace and tranquility about this church.
Monte Hill Chapel:
This chapel is known by the hill –Monte Hill- it is perched upon. Located in Margao, this chapel was built in 1543 and is known for its candle-lit Christmas revelry and also Easter Sunday celebrations. The white chapel is a simple structure and standing by its side one can get a panoramic view of the city of Margao and also good to get a glimpse of the sunset. There a good restaurant nearby called Cinnamon located at the Govt. Guest House. It could be ideal for honeymoon couples. The prime attraction of this hill is the Chapel of Calcada de Nossa Senhora de Piedade, which is popularly known as Our Lady of Mercy. The hill is also known as Moti Dongar.
Chapel of St. Francis Xavier:
Known to be one of the oldest and famous churches of Goa, it was built and used by St. Francis Xavier himself. A UNESCO world heritage site, this chapel has made use of the Doric architectural style with tiled roof. This structure has been built using laterite blocks plastered with lime mortar. Records say it was rebuilt in 1884 after it was ruined in 1570. People who visit this chapel have acknowledged having felt the spiritual bliss similar to the one that exists in some of the oldest churches in Goa.
Mae De Deus Church:
Located in the pretty suburb of Saligao on the Chogm road, this church is a sight to behold, especially when it is lit after dusk. Its castle-like architecture makes it a unique structure. The church is a classic example of the Gothic architecture and houses a gilded wooden statue of Mae De Deus. Six other altars located in the church are dedicated to Sacred Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Assumption, Christ the Redeemer, Our Lady of Piety and St. Francis Xavier. Tradition is that the first Sunday of May marks the feast of Our Lady and is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety. The church is quite young in terms of its age and was built in 1867.
Goa is a fun place for tourists and a destination all game for parties. But apart from the usual revelry on the beaches and the surrounding sea, there are beautiful churches that add to the heritage of this state. Churches that are linked to the Portuguese era and are over 400 years old dot this beach destination. Old Goa has now become synonymous with churches and the festivities that are related to it. The Basilica of Bom Jesus, The Se Cathedral and various other chapels and churches are all part of Goa’s cultural and religious heritage. These have to be treasured and conserved for future generations to experience their existence. Most of the Goan churches have been marked as UNESCO World Heritage sites and attract tourists galore from all over the world to witness the grand spectacle of various celebrations and feasts, especially during the month of December.