GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – The Golden Goa

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Built in the reign of king Dom Sebastião, the cathedral of Goa impresses with its size. It forces us to pull our head back in amazement at its classical façade of the 36 meters and its interior measuring 76 meters long and 55 wide. Or even the not so usual (in such constructions) height and width of the central nave of this temple containing authentic treasures in the form of carved retables, statues and paintings (all of a clear Western influence?) To those who are not satisfied, add to the aforementioned all the exuberance and color of the ornaments that make up the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

These elements reflect well the grandeur of that which, since 1510, was the capital of the Portuguese empire of the East, Golden Goa as they called it at the time of its apogee. It was through Goa that the Western world merged with the ancient civilization of India, in a crucible of interracial marriages and political alliances that created ties that still remain strong today.

In Goa was introduced the first printer and with it were prepared the books that would make this city the pole of Christianity throughout Asia. It can be said that the Cathedral, dating from 1562, in full economic and social and artistic boom, reveals a desire to impress the natives with “the wealth, power and fame of the Portuguese who dominated the seas from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

The Society of Jesus was by far the most important religious congregation in Asia. And Goa was, so to speak, its principal headquarters. There were all the members of this community destined to preach in the most remote and inhospitable corners of Asia. As historian Jaime Cortesão rightly writes, “the Jesuits, more than all others, gave Goa its character as a missionary metropolis. In the House of Catechumens, the indigenous adults were catechized and taught; and in the vast College of St Paul more than 2000 children received free education.”

One of the main concerns of this religious order was knowledge, which is why they founded the first university in Asia, more precisely in Macau.

The Church of Bom Jesus, known as “the Taj Mahal of Goa,” such is its grandeur, it well exemplifies the type of religious buildings that were built in Goa. The French traveler Pyrard de Laval points out that the “number of churches is so wonderful, that there is no square, street, crossroads, that does not have any.” However, what most impressed him was the convent of San Francisco, which Laval considered “the most beautiful and rich of the world.”

Other constructions, of much greater size, did not survive the campaign of destruction that followed the decree of the Marquis of Pombal that extinguished the religious orders. The most magnificent examples of religious architecture were simply razed to the ground.

Built in 1585, in a privileged place, right in the center of the city, the convent of Bom Jesus probably escaped because of the fact that it houses the tomb of St Francis Xavier. Rivals of the Jesuits, the Franciscans fiercely opposed the convent’s construction.

In the lay sector, the building where the religious lived, called Casa Professa, had three floors.Numerous were the carved altars, paintings and liturgical objects in silver. In the main altarpiece, late 17th century, it is an allegory to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of the congregation.

The chapel of St Francis, completed in 1569, contains a silver box (Goan artists’ work) studded with precious stones, where the saint’s uncorrupted body is the object of extreme veneration throughout Asia. Inside the chapel there are paintings alluding to the saint’s life.

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