A church is a general term for the building used for worship and other religious services by the Christians. A church can again be a Basilica or a Cathedral or an Evangelical building. Staying away from the broader classification based on the types, I would rather stay with the various beautiful Churches that are seen around in the state of Goa. When it comes to exploring the rich spiritual and architectural heritage of the region, our focus is on the stunning and diverse Churches in Goa.
Best Churches in Goa to Visit
Goa is famed for its beaches and its churches. Where ever you go in Goa, be it the old city or the narrow lanes of some remote village you definitely will find a beautiful, big or small whitewashed church in the area. This is because of the considerable Christian population that once inhabited in this area.
Christianity arrived in Goa even before the Portuguese conquest of the area. Christianity came to India with St Thomas the Apostle who arrived at Muziris on the Kerala coast in AD 52. He travelled through the Malabar region to spread Christianity. St Thomas and St Bartholomew are believed to propagate the religion in Goa in the initial phase.
Later during the Portuguese conquest of the region around the 1510s, large scale conversion to Christianity took place. Soon the region became the primary site of Christianisation of the East and the act of preaching the gospel was divided on an area basis to various religious heads. Thus the Velhas Conquistas or the areas of “the Old Conquests” became the centre of the mass conversion. This area constitutes the western part of the present state of Goa along with Daman and Diu, which initially came under the Portuguese rule.
The large-scale conversion seemed to be the result of the higher position and authority enjoyed by the Portuguese over the native Hindus. The new converts were also granted Portuguese citizenship. With the wave of the conversion continuing the converts were majorly seen to take up the Portuguese way of life encasing their old native lifestyle to the extent of adopting surnames of the important and influential Portuguese persons of the region.
Although the new converts have discarded their old lifestyle they could not give away their previous caste status. Thus they formed their new Christian caste system with the Bhramins becoming Christian Bamonns, Kshatriya becoming Chardos and the Sudras becoming Sudirs. Christianity thus thrived in Velhas Conquistas while the Novas Conquistas was still the Hindu majority region.
All the deities of the Hindu temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese found a new home in the Novas Conquistas (New Conquest area) which comprised of the eastern part of the state bordering the then British India. Later this area also came under the wave of Christianisation though to a lesser extent.
With this presiding story of the spread of Christianity, it is well understood that the state has a considerable amount of Christian population, though it declined with time due to migration to other states and abroad. So churches are a part of Goan culture and tradition apart from being its religious institution. Various old to new churches are seen everywhere while a majority are seen in western part with the Old Goa being the site of the oldest and the most important of all churches.
When talking of the old and famous churches of Goa the first name that comes to mind is the famous and a very important pilgrimage site for the Christians – Basilica Bom Jesus. The church is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. He along with St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He died in China in the year 1552 and was buried in Portuguese Malacca and two years later his body was brought to Goa. It is said that without any mummification the body was still fresh as it was just buried.
The body of the saint became the prime attraction of the church since then and the church became an important site of pilgrimage for the Christians and of tourism for others. The body lays in a rich silver casket and is kept open for public viewing once every ten years. The next public viewing is supposed to be held in the year 2024.
Just opposite to the Basilica Bom Jesus is the large compound of Se Cathedral. The cathedral was constructed by the Roman Catholics under the Portuguese rule to commemorate the victory of Afonso de Albuquerque and his men over the then Muslim ruler of Goa in 1510. The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Catherine as the victory of Afonso happened on the same day of the feast of the Saint.
The bell of the cathedral is known to be the largest in Goa and is considered as one of the famous bells across the world. It is often referred to as the ‘Golden Bell’ for its shiny tone and texture. The main altar is dedicated to Saint Catherine and it has various paintings depicting scenes from her life. On the right, there is the chapel of the cross of the Miracle.
As per the legend, this cross of Miracle is a wish-fulfilling one for the faithful and it is said to be slowly and constantly growing. Some even believed to have witnessed water spring from the rock on which the cross was built. The church also houses the baptism font of St Francis Xavier’s who held the rites for the new converts.
With such amazing and astonishing facts and legends, these two ancient churches stand in the heart of old Goa claiming to be the most important site of tourism in the state. The then Goa was the capital of Portuguese India and Asia and also a stronghold of Catholic Christians. It was considered a very important place for the spread of the religion as well as the introduction of western art in the form of the Manueline styles, Mannerist and Baroque architecture and paintings.
During the 16th and 17th century the Portuguese trade flourished and Goa held the equal administrative position and privilege as Lisbon. This is when most of the monuments and the churches were erected in Goa. The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is one of the oldest church in Goa built in the simple Manueline architecture. While the Basilica Bom Jesus and the rebuilt structure of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi followed the Mannerist style. In this way, various monuments were built all across the mainland and also in the river islands of Chorao and Divar and the other island areas of Diu and Daman. (Read my stories on the river islands of Goa and the island of Diu.)
Moving around the streets of Goa, I could spot many churches, most of them seemed to be old and they were mostly whitewashed. While we stopped at some but drove past others. In this way, we reached the Three Kings Chapel. Now this church has a notorious reputation on the internet for being haunted. In fact, this reputation is what brought me to this chapel but I was completely mesmerised by the isolated location on the hilltop and the lovely panoramic view of the surrounding it offers. It is said that place has an eerie feeling even during the day and after the sun is down strange noises are heard and other paranormal activities are witnessed.
To us it neither seemed eerie in day nor do we feel it to be haunted even at night, rather this is a calm place away from the chatter of the tourist town below. The chapel is affiliated to the St. Thomas Church, Cansaulim and was founded by Fr Gonsalo Carvalho in 1599. It was known as the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies (Nossa Senhora dos Remedios), later it was popularised by the name of Three Kings Chapel which was derived from the Magi or the three wise men who visited Jesus on his birth with gifts.
The three kings feast is celebrated on the 6th of January every year. It is said that the early Christians celebrated three important events of the life of Jesus through feast – the birth of Jesus and the visit of three magi; the baptism of Jesus; and the first miracle of Jesus. While Christmas is still celebrated on the 7th of January by some orthodox church. (Read my previous posts on Christmas in Kolkata and Christmas in Chandannagar.)
As per the legend, once upon a time, three Portuguese kings ruled the area and each one of them had a hidden desire to overrule the others. In this quest, a king invited the other two for dinner and poisoned them. As the news spread there was huge unrest among the loyal of the deceased kings. Fearing a violent rebel the king committed suicide and it is said that the spirit of the three kings loiters here.
I really felt bad for the haunted reputation the church holds, but again thanks to the story that brought me to this hilltop to witness such an awe-inspiring place in the tranquillity of nature. Of all the other churches that I have visited in Goa, this chapel will definitely hold a special place in my heart, not because of its architecture neither for its haunted story but for the peace prevailing in the area with the aerial view of the green surrounding. I end my journey through the Churches of Goa in Three Kings Chapel and let my pictures narrate the visual story. Go through them and let me know the church of your choice.