It was almost 500 years ago, in 1510, when Portuguese invaded Goa, defeating the Bijapur Sultanate. Since then, the Portuguese rule lasted in Goa for about 450 years, until 1961. Do you know, even before detailed cartography or mapmaking saw the light of day, the then King of Portugal thought Goa was just next to Brazil, which was then a Portuguese colony too. Although today we know, Brazil and Goa are continents and oceans apart, they are so close yet so far. Close, about the Portuguese culture, cuisine and architecture. The 450 years of Portuguese rule was ought to turn Goa into a slice of Portugal in India and it has rightly done so. Of all the things introduced to mainland India by the Portuguese, Roman Catholicism tops the list. It has only added to the richness and diversity of the Indian cultural fabric and has helped turn it into a melting-pot in many ways. Just cross over the borders of Goa and you instantly start feeling those happy vibes and those Iberian winds in your hair. Be it the crosses along the streets, the spires of magnificent churches, the sun and sand, the Konkani-Portuguese words in the air or that much-loved Sushegad feeling.
Even today, the soul of Goa resides in its old part, known as Velha Goa or Old Goa. The churches and convents of Old Goa were declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Centuries ago, after the village was taken in by Alfonso de Albuquerque, the first Portuguese viceroy, at its peak, Old Goa is said to have been a city of over 2,00,000 inhabitants and was also known by the title – ‘Rome of the East’, specifically for its splendid and innumerable collection of cathedrals and churches.
In this blog, we bring to you 15 famous churches in Goa for Christian worship. Read on to drink in the divine interventions, architectural marvels and the many relics of the Portuguese that Goa inherits today and only adds to the incredibility and divinity of India.
1. Basilica of Bom Jesus
Bom Jesus means ‘Good or Holy Jesus’. Located in Old Goa, Basilica of Bom Jesus is one of the most famous places to visit in Goa and also the most frequently visited. It’s one of the oldest churches, dating back to 1594 and was built by the Jesuits. The Church is thronged by devotees and tourists alike to take a glimpse of the relics or mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier housed in the Basilica. The holy relics are displayed every ten years during the anniversary of St. Francis Xavier’s demise. His liturgical feast is 3rd Moreover, with its elaborate works of precious stones, and surreal works of impressionist painter, Dom Martin, Basilica of Bom Jesus is considered one of the best examples of baroque architecture and Portuguese Colonial architecture in India and finds its place in the list of ‘Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World’ and is rightly the most popular church in Goa.
2. The Church of Our Lady of The Rosary
Built in 1543, the Church of Our Lady of The Rosary is the oldest of the Old Goa churches still standing. On the outside, the church looks like a small fortress and is one of the unique churches, making it one of the not-to-be-missed places to visit in North Goa. The church has an immense historical significance and is believed to be built by Alfonso de Albuquerque as a gratitude for his victory over armies of the Deccan Sultanate of Bijapur. It is also here that St. Francis Xavier gave his first sermon when he arrived in Goa.
3. Se Cathedral
Se Cathedral is among the largest of all churches, and probably also the most beautiful church in Goa. Adorned with magnificent architecture and having great religious importance, the church was built to glorify the Portuguese rule over India, dedicating it to St. Catherine. Housing the Great Golden Bell and having received the benediction of Pope in the form of the Golden Rose, Se Cathedral indeed has a striking spiritual aura to it.
4. Church of St. Francis of Assisi
This church was established by the Franciscan Friars in 1661, and is a unique blend of Tuscan, Baroque and Corinthian architecture. Its artistically gilded altars, with an inlay of precious stones and ornate interiors makes this church unique in structure and also one of the most famous churches in Goa. Besides housing a convent, what makes this church famous is, it also includes a museum showcasing paintings, sculptures, and artefacts which provide a glimpse of Goa’s culture and past.
5. Chapel of St. Catherine
The chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria is one of the famous churches in Goa and has a huge historical significance. Situated in the same compound as the Se Cathedral as well as the Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, this elegant church was built by the Portuguese general, Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1510 to celebrate the victorious march into the city. Even today, this fact is quite evident from the inscribed stone, which tells that this is the exact spot where the Portuguese general set foot. The Baroque style of architecture was prominent during the time of its construction and the same can be witnessed with its brown and white facades.
6. Church of St. Cajetan
Another famous church in North Goa is the Church of St. Cajetan. Dedicated to St. Cajetan and Our Lady of Providence, and designed by the Italian architects – Carlo Ferrarini and Francesco Maria Milazzo, the church is said to be modelled on the lines of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The church is an impressive remnant of the Portuguese reign over Goa. It’s magnificent Corinthian architecture and impressive baroque interiors have made St. Cajetan one of the most visited and most popular churches in Goa.
7. Ruins of the Church of St. Augustine
The Augustinians too arrived in Goa in the 16th century, founding a convent and a church building on top of Monte Santo (Holy Hill), between 1597 and 1602. Currently, both are in ruins. Of the remains of the church, the most striking is a part of a tower that is still standing. It is known that the original facade was flanked by two huge towers of five floors, and the domestic side was a single nave with side chapel and transept. Once upon a time, the church was considered as one of the three great Augustinian churches in the Iberian world along with El Escorial and the Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora. Today, the ruins of the church of St. Augustine are one of the most visited tourist destinations in Goa. The ruins were featured in the song ‘Gumnaam Hai Koi’ from the 1965 suspense thriller Gumnaam and in the song ‘Saathiya’ from the movie Singham.
8. Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception
Situated in Panaji, this church is among the oldest and the most famous churches of Goa. It was built in the year 1609. We have caught its glimpse in many Bollywood movies. It has an iconic and elegant outer structure and has a singularly distinctive architecture and appearance owing to its Baroque style and double flight of steps zigzagging across the hillside on which the church is situated. The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception also has the 2nd largest bell in Goa. Thousands gather here on the day of the feast that falls on 8th December, when the whole church is decorated with colourful lights and large fairs are held to celebrate the occasion.
9. Mae De Deus Church
Translating to ‘Mother of God’, the church is among the best and the most famous churches to see in North Goa. Built in 1873, with its unique and breath-taking architectural design and flawless white walls, Mae De Deus Church is the only church in Goa built in the Neo-Gothic style. Its magnificent structure, with numerous spires, carved embellishment, gilded altars and ornate interiors, including the miraculous Mae De Deus statue, reminds us of a medieval castle, with its white exterior dazzling in daylight. In the evenings though, the church is illuminated with lighting, making it a marvellous sight to behold.
10. Church of the Cross of Miracles
Built in 1619, this church is another historical monument in North Goa. Although now it stands as a historical ruin as amongst the churches in North Goa, this edifice still standing as a steady building is a perfect example of strength and fortitude. It’s a church with a history of its own. It is famous for its Miraculous Cross, which is said to have supernatural healing powers. This place draws a large number of visitors who just want to experience the miraculous powers this place has. Moreover, the Church of the Cross of Miracles is visited by people of all religions on the day of the feast when thousands of devotees throng the church to seek the blessings of the Holy Mother.
11. Three Kings Chapel
The Three Kings Chapel is a lone church located atop a hill called Cuelim, in Cansaulim, in the vast expanses of South Goa. This church is among the most famous churches in South Goa. The story goes that the church was governed by three kings, who fought and eventually killed each other in a quest to become more powerful and be the ultimate ruler. Later, they were buried at the church site itself and the story goes that their spirits still roam the place, quietly governing and protecting the kingdom. The church boasts innumerable ghostly and mysterious legends enticing many to visit this place to get a first-hand experience. This is one of the biggest reasons why this church is also listed in the top haunted places in Goa. Since it’s located on a hill, this church gives spectacular scenic views of the coastline and the lush greenery. You are also treated to view stunning views of sunrise and sunset. Today, it’s also a favourite location for Bollywood films.
So, if you’re curious and want to explore the site yourself, make sure you head there before 6 pm for post-sunset, visitors are not allowed on the church grounds.
12. Chapel of St. Sebastian
This small white-coloured church is a notable tourist attraction in Panjim. This chapel, which was built in 1818, is dedicated to St. Sebastian, who once healed many people of diseases and plagues. The belief that is attached to this famous church is that the ‘Striking Crucifix’, which was originally placed in the Palace of Inquisition, has magical powers to punish wrongdoers and troublemakers, and bring justice to good people.
13. Our Lady of Penha de Franca Church
Situated at the confluence of Mandovi and Mapusa rivers in Bardez, this church is a scenic beauty and a visual treat. This church is named after a Spanish saint, Saint Nossa Senhora de Penha de Franca, who is believed to have saved Portuguese from a dangerous situation on their voyage to India. Its magnificent architecture, stained glass windows, high vaulted ceiling, and all in all, beautifully embellished interiors reflecting the creativity of those times, makes this church among the most beautiful and most famous churches in North Goa.
14. St. Andrew’s Church
Situated in the historical coastal town of Vasco da Gama, St. Andrew’s is among the most famous churches in South Goa and the most famous site in Vasco. Named after the patron saint of fishermen, this gracious building of white facade has one of the most beautifully ornamented interiors in comparison to other churches in Goa. The church impresses with its elegant Neo-gothic architecture that’s adorned with a golden pure tinge to its interior and well-maintained grottos. The church also runs a school on its premises.
15. Church of Our Lady of the Mount
Located in Ella and built in 1510, the Church of Our Lady of the Mount is situated on a hill and gives stunning and mesmerizing views of Mandovi River and Chorao and Divar Islands, located nearby along with that of Old Goa, amid the fresh ambience of surrounding hills. The Portuguese general, Alfonso de Albuquerque, ordered the construction of this church. It is among the oldest chapels and the most famous churches in Old Goa. The Church of Our Lady of the Mount is situated right beside Se Cathedral and is popular for its Monte Music Festival, which is a four-day celebration of Indian and Western Music performances by reputed and up-coming musicians. The church has also featured in movies like ‘All The Best’ and ‘Zeher’.
So, this was the list of the 15 famous churches in Goa for Christian worship. If you have visited any of them, you must have realised how spiritually elevating it is to enjoy those quiet moments of tranquillity sitting in these churches and saying a silent prayer. Moreover, with many of these churches finding their place on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they all are true gems of history and inherit a glorious past. Visit Goa during the Christmas holidays and you’ll get to see and experience these places of worship all decked up. The churches and convents of Goa, truly transport us to Europe and specifically to Portugal while we are still in India. Let’s take pride in this great heritage of ours and the next time you plan your Goa tour package, along with sun, sand and parties, let there be some time reserved for a rendezvous between you and the Lord, and let the venue be his magnificent homes around.