A description of "Old Goa."
The Portuguese colonial ambition and Roman Catholic zeal established the city of Goa, sometimes called the Rome of the tropics, where 30% of the population is Roman Catholic. On the western coast of India, Goa was the keystone of the Eastern Portuguese Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries.
There arose a Portuguese proverb Quem viu Goa, excusa de ver Lisboa ("One who has seen Goa does not need to see Lisbon"). This rich and well-planned city was soon known as Queen of all of the East. In the year 1510, Portuguese ships led by Alfonso de Albuquerque captured Goa from its previous Muslim rulers since 1470. Even before the arrival of the Portuguese, Goa was a thriving and prosperous city. At the time, it was a place surrounded by wall, tower and moat, and contained temples, mosques and the large palace Adil Shah. Portuguese traders were then able to profit greatly from the lucrative local trade in horses and spices. Portuguese immigrants and government officials followed. By the late sixteenth century, as many as 2,500 new arrivals annually replenished a population constantly depleted by disease.
With them came missionaries from various religious orders, encouraged by the colonial government as a "civilizing influence" on the natives. In an area now called Velha Goa ("Old Goa") more than twenty churches were built. The church that was the largest had the highest point of a hill. On Monte Santo ("holy hill") of Velha Goa was the monastery of the Augustinian Order, attached to which was the enormous church of Nossa Senhora da Graca (Our Lady of Grace). This process was hastened by the arrival in 1542 of Francis Xavier, and by the dreaded Holy Office, better known as the Inquisition, for whose trials and bloody auto da fé (acts of faith) the colony later became notorious. The close of the 16th century brought home to Goa the harsh reality of colonial rivalry as the Portuguese lost naval domination the Dutch, French and British, while at the same time they were attempting to ward off both Hindu and Muslim attacks.
By the year 1750, Goa, the proud Baroque capital by then battle-scarred and affected by the plague, went into severe decline. It was well on its way towards becoming a ghost city as the population started moving down the river to Panaji (the present capital of Goa). This former Portuguese capital, visible above the tree tops of the riverside palm grooves with its large white Cathedral towers and domes, is now a tourist attraction. It is one of the most impressive group of historical monuments in India, and one of the finest precincts of Renaissance architecture anywhere in the world. Old Goa is nine kilometres west of Panaji. Some of its half dozen impressive Catholic churches and cathedrals (among the largest in Asia) have become museums and are maintained by Archaeological Survey of India.
Building maintenance is essential. If the lime plaster which protects the laterite structures is not renewed frequently, the laterite disintegrates and the monsoons will reducea building to ruin. Old Goa is today a desolate village with a conglomeration of massive churches and other church buildings. On their arrival in Goa from Portugal on 3 September 1572, a dozen members of the Order of Saint Augustine built the first priory (convento) of the Order in Goa. This simple structure was rebuilt 1597-1602, mainly through the efforts of Gaspar de Sao Vicente O.S.A. It became Goa's richest monastery. Beside it was the massive Church of Our Lady of Grace (Nossa Senhora da Graca) - the largest church in Goa. Its proved to be one of the greatest feats of construction in the long history of Goa.
In Old Goa, a lonely tower of the ruin of the Church of Our Lady of Grace, retaining its original height of 46 meters (150 feet), overlooks the old city. It is the only surviving bit of the superstructure of the Augustinian church of Our Lady of Grace, which was completed in 1602 and abandoned when the Augustinians were ordered to leave Goa in 1835. The massive roof collapsed a few years later, in 1842. Most of the facade fell in 1931. The remaining tower has been stabilized. The rubble on the left is the remnant of a great staircase that once led up a low hill to the church.
The tower is a mere skeleton of the old square towers and the great church, which are now a heap of ruins covered by vegetation. Yet it is impressive. The Church was built during the years from 1597 to 1602 by the Order of Saint Augustine. The name of the designer of this magnificent church is not known, but he is thought to have been an Italian. There is a tradition that, during its construction, the high vault fell down twice, but the Italian architect would not give up. When built a third time, he and his only son stood under the vault and asked for a heavy cannon to be fired to test the stability of the structure. It did not fall down again until left to decay 240 years later.
More than twenty impressive churches once existed in Velha Goa ("Old Goa"). Fewer than ten remain today, and four of these are quite small. The churches were located on and between the seven hills around the Velha Goa region. Pride of place on the Monte Santo ("Holy Hill") at Velha Goa was the site for the monastery of the Order of Saint Augustine, to which was the enormous Church of Our Lady of Grace. When it was completed in the 1602, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Graca became one of the three great Augustinian churches in the Iberian world. Still in existence, the others are the Igreja Sao Vicente de Fora ("Church of Saint Vincent outside the walls") in Lisbon, and the basilica of the Escorial palace in Spain (built in 1562-1584 by King Phillip II, but administered by the Order of Saint Augustine only since 1885.)
On entering the Church of Nossa Senhora da Graca (the largest church ever built in Goa), a visitor could see the grand retable (backdrop) of the high altar, with its large gilt tabernacle sheltered within an arch, through a screen of arched piers. Vestiges of most of these piers were visible until recently; they supported a spacious choir which could have accommodated a large number of Augustinians. The nave of the Church now lies open to the sky, under whose broken arches locals sometimes gather and talk. Covering the vast nave was a barrel vault, whose enormous weight unfortunately hastened its collapse. The church contained great decoration. Its twin towers (only a part of one of them still exists) were 46.0 m in height, and were the tallest structures in Old Goa.
During its construction, the high vault fell down twice, but the Italian architect would not give up. When built a third time, he and his only son stood under the vault and asked for a heavy cannon to be fired to test the stability of the structure. It did not fall down again until much later. When that happened, the bell, which was the second largest in Goa, was transferred to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception on the city of Panaji (the regional capital city). With the religious suppression during 1835 in Portugal and all its colonies, the Augustinians were forced to leave the church. The building fell into neglect, resulting in the collapse of the roof on 8 September 1842. The Government appropriated the property, and sold the materials during the following year. In 1846, much of the adjacent Augustinian monastery and college were pulled down, leaving only the church behind.
The facade of the church and half of the tower fell in 1931 and some more parts of it collapsed in 1938. All that is left of this church today is a part of one of four tall towers (see photo on a previous page) and the church's large bell. The tower was a five-storied arched belfry built of laterite; it formed part of facade of the church facing east. When the bell was removed, it was first placed in the Fort Aguada Lighthouse, where it remained from 1841 to 1871. Finally it was put in the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception at Panaji in 1871, and it is still in working condition. Although leaning, the lonely tower retains close to its original height of 46.0 m (150 feet) overlooks the old city. All else is now a heap of ruins covered by vegetation.
The former St Augustine's Church in Old Goa was very similar to a church (originally Augustinian) that still stands in Lisbon, Portugal. In that the Church of Sao Vicente de Fora at Lisbon in Portugal, built between 1582 and 1627, was designed shortly before the church in Goa, their similarity in style (even though different materials had to be used in Goa) is not surprising. Both contained a heavy central vault. The vault of the Lisbon church fell to earth in the enormous earthquake of 1775 (but was restored - see photo at left), and the vault of the Goa church fell in disrepair in 1842, and was never replaced. The Lisbon church was definitely designed under the direction of Italian master Filipo Terzi (1520-1597), and an Italian architect reputedly worked on the Goa church. As it happened, Filippo Terzi had previously worked under Juan de Herrera, the Spaniard who designed the Escorial for King Phillip II. From 1580 until his death in 1598, Phillip II of Spain was also Phillip I of Portugal, and was very influential in architectural matters in areas under his control.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet photo gallery on the Vicariate of India (including Goa and the above pictures), click here.
Old Goa. St Augustine’s Church (ruins). A selection of photographs. http://en.wikigogo.org/en/327680
Churches of Old Goa. Past and Present. http://www.goa2u.com/churches.htm
That quintessential Old Goa Heritage Walk. Lovely photographs, many of Augustinian interest. http://www.bijoyvenugopal.com/quintessential-old-goa-heritage-walk
Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Old Goa. More photographs of Augustinian interest. http://www.greatmirror.com/index.cfm?navid=1361