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Churches and Convents of Goa

Churches and Convents of Goa
The Churches and Convents of Goa are a group of Catholic religious buildings that have been influential for spreading both the faith and their Portuguese style of art and architecture around Asia. They are located in Old Goa, which from 1565 was the capital of the Portuguese Indies. It was abandoned as such in 1760 because of a malaria outbreak.

The main buildings that are included, are:
- St. Catherine's Chapel
- Church and Convent of Francis of Assisi
- Sé Cathedral
- Basilica of Bom Jesus
- Church of Saint Cajetan including the seminary
- Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
- St. Augustine Tower

The Basilica of Bom Jesus holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary across Asia (India, Japan, China) who died in 1552. He is regarded as the patron saint of Goa. Once every decade on December 3, the body is taken down for veneration and for public viewing.

Visit January 2011

Old Goa is now mainly an archaeological site annex open air museum - there are some restaurants, vendors and people living there in shacks, but it is hard to imagine that this once was a city of 200,000 inhabitants. Their religious structures have survived, a clutter of churches, chapels and convents in different European architectural styles. I'm not sure if the whole area of the former Portuguese city has been designated a WHS, or only the named churches and convents - the documentation on the Unesco website once again is incomplete.

I arrived by local bus from Panaji, the current capital of Goa, about 15 minutes away. The site is pretty popular with Indian tourists - to them it must be a very exotic place, with its abundance of non-Indian monuments. But when you're familiar with Southern Europe or Latin America, the churches aren't that special. Most of them are plain, especially the interiors. Some of the churches have faded wall paintings or wooden carvings. Their style almost looks naïve. Only the Sé Cathedral and the Basilica (where St. Francis Xavier is buried) still seem to be used for religious services.

The town is pleasant enough to spend half a day. I went around on foot, the roads are not too busy and the grounds are well-kept. Nowhere I had to pay an entrance fee. The Church of St. Francis and the Basilica hold the best ornaments. Besides the churches not much is left, except for the Viceroy's Arch near the coast - a crumbling gate that was erected to commemorate the capture of the city by the Portuguese. It appropriately has a statue of Vasco da Gama on top.


Tom Livesey (United Kingdom):
In February 2014 I was fortunate enough to sort a quick two day trip to Goa with my Dad (a pilot). We flew out of Manchester on Wednesday morning and were back at Gatwick by Saturday.

Old Goa was founded by the Bijapur sultanate – a Shia Muslim dynasty that ruled a swathe of India from coast to coast in the southern central region. However, it is for its Portuguese prominence that the town is remembered, as it was made the colony’s most important city upon its capture from the sultanate in 1510.

The first building we visited was the 408 year old Basilica of Bom Jesus (Basilica of Holy Jesus) – a large baroque structure built from granite and basalt. Uniquely in Old Goa, it is unplastered – which sets it apart from all of the other churches, which are white. It was originally plastered, but was stripped of it by “a zealous Portuguese conservationist” in 1950.

We also look round the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Sé Cathedral, the Church of St Catejan, the Our Lady of the Rosary church, the Arch of the Viceroys and the ruins of the Church of St Augustine. All are within walking distance. The latter is the most striking, with an enormous fragment of a tower still standing in what is otherwise an abandoned ruin.
Date posted: September 2015
Wojciech Fedoruk (Poland):
Although Goa is famous from its beaches, my main target in this state was visitig its churches and convents.
The inscribed churches are groupped on a small area in Goa Velha (Old Goa), small place near Panaji, Goa's capital. It is very easy to get there by bus from Panaji bus station, and the ticket is about 10 rupees. All churches, except Bom Jesus basillica, are painted white and present themselves wonderfully in Indian sun. The ones I liked most were Se Cathedral, Church of St. Francis, Church of St. Cayetan and Bom Jesus. The latter is the place were Francisco Xavier is buried. His coffin is importan pilgrimage place for Indian (and other) catholics. The whole place may be visited in 2-3 hours, but is definitely worth seeing.
Date posted: July 2015
Frederik Dawson (Netherlands / USA):
On the plane from Mumbai to Goa, I sat with an Indian man who asked me which beach I planned to go, when I answered that I came here to see Old Goa churches especially the one that hold the relic of Saint Francis Xavier, he misunderstood my World Heritage Site traveling and started to praise my religious devotion! At Goa I chose to stay in the old town of Panaji or local called Panjim, the town was delightful with lovely Portuguese colonial buildings and churches. I also had great times admiring old Goa-Portuguese teak craved chairs; after first saw this kind of craving art at Pena Palace of Sintra in 2006; it became one of my favorite. Next morning I hired a taxi to take me to see Old Goa and nearby tourist attractions like spice garden and waterfalls.

St. Augustine church and its convent were the first places I visited in Old Goa, the complex was once the biggest church in Goa, but now in ruinous state after Portuguese expelled the order. I walked around the complex and saw some nice ceramic tiles decoration and interesting partially collapsed high tower. After that I walked to see Convent of St. Monica, the convent interior was closing for restoration, but the big buttress and Portuguese State Seal wall motif were the highlights of its exterior. Our Lady of the Rosary Church was my next destination. The church was built on the hill behind St. Monica Convent so it was a short walk. The church’s façade was very interesting with fortress liked design. The interior was plain but I really like its pastel colored wooden altar and cute figurines. Also the warm light inside this church was the best for photography. My taxi took me to the next place, the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The Basilica is very unique with its laterite exterior contrast of other white plaster covered churches in the town. Inside I saw golden main altar, the motif was clearly the celebration of Jesuit Order. On the right side of altar was the golden tomb of St. Francis Xavier. The Basilica was full with local tourists and I had to queue in order to have a chance for closer look on the tomb and I only had ten seconds to admire it! I gave up the horde of people and decided to move on to other church in the opposite side of the road, the large complex of Se Cathedral and Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

When I entered into the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, my mouth opened with wow, the interior of this church in my opinion was the most breathtaking sight in Old Goa. Actually the reason I came to Old Goa was to see this church but I mistook it with the Basilica of Bom Jesus, and that why when I entered the Basilica I was quite confused. The interior was very rich in details from beautiful wooden gilded altars, naïvely sculptures to colorful paintings and tiles decoration. Then I went to Se Cathedral, unfortunately the exterior was under restoration so I could not see the whole façade, the interior was quite similar with the Basilica of Bom Jesus, but the quality of arts were more superior in my idea. There were also many interesting painting of using Hinduism symbol in the cathedral painting around many altars. After cathedral I walked to Church of St. Cajetan passed the Viceroy’s Arch. The Church of St. Cajetan was modeled after St. Peter in Vatican, so its design was quite unique for Goa. Inside the church was again with beautiful altars and inspiring white classic decoration motifs. Then my taxi took me to Church of Our Lady of the Mount, not part of World Heritage Site, but also a very nice white church on the hill. From the church I could see the whole of Old Goa with dense green jungle and dreamy white churches, the same view in Paul Tanner’s review. I also had a chance to see Bollywood film crew as they used the church as love scene filming location while I was there.

I finished Old Goa tour within 3 hours longer than my taxi driver expected, he said that most of tourists will spend only 1-2 hours to see churches. In my opinion, Old Goa is a really nice place to visit, also because of its Christianity theme makes it very unique for Indian World Heritage Site, and its Portuguese architecture makes Old Goa like a different country, a nice antidote after many Mughal, Hindu, Buddhist and British Colonial arts during the long Indian trip. By the way I am quite confused with comments of Els and Paul Tanner that they were not sure which part of old Goa have been inscribed as the map in the UNESCO website is very clear that the protected areas are circled by the green lines. Apart from sites that Els already listed above, there is also a relatively unknown Gate of St. Paul College which is a part of World Heritage Site.
Date posted: April 2014
Solivagant (UK):
In Goa Velha we occasionally had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were in tropical India rather than Latin America – but there were large numbers of Indians in church and wearing saris to prove it!

Overall Goa Velha exceeded our expectations - but these were perhaps not that high to start with. We were more carrying out a duty visit based on “list counting” than from any urgent desire to see the site!! This now consists of a series of churches and convents laid out pleasantly over a wide area among landscaped gardens and tropical forests – a very relaxing place to visit with bright greens (trees and lawns), blues (sky and river) and whites (most churches!). There are no significant remains of any habitation from the early days of the old city although there were signs that richer Goans were currently building plush villas among the trees. The capital was officially moved to Panjim in 1843 but the churches had begun to suffer earlier in 1835 when Portugal initiated a series of actions against the religious orders. The ruined church of St Augustine dates from these activities

Goa’s capture by the Alphonso de Albuquerque from its Muslim ruler took place as early as 1510 – Cortes didn’t overcome the Aztecs until 1520 and Pizarro the Incas in 1532. But, as far as we could make out, the current churches in Goa date mainly from the Seventeenth century having taken a long time to establish or having replaced earlier structures. The tomb of St Francis Xavier in Bom Jesus was even sculpted in Italy by Foggini and shipped out to Goa in 1698.The main exception is the fortress-like Church of Our Lady of the Rosary which was completed in 1549 on the spot where Albuquerque masterminded his second and successful attempt to capture Goa. Situated a bit away from the centre it should be visited if possible! We also enjoyed the views from the (possibly not inscribed) Church of Our Lady of the Mount a couple of kms east of the main site (photo). Yes the ornamentation isn’t as opulent as in Latin American churches from a similar period and much of painted interior decoration has been lost - St Francis is possibly the best

As Els indicates in her review, it is not entirely clear what parts of Goa Velha have been inscribed. Our guide insisted that it was only the Se Cathedral, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Francis – but he is certainly incorrect. Some large maps displayed on locations around the site show buildings with a red dot = “World Heritage Monument” and a white one = “Other Heritage sites”. This seems to show that the Chapel of St Catherine (reconstructed in 1952 on the remains of the very first church from 1510), the Church of St Cajetan, The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and the ruins of the Church of St Augustine are also inscribed – making 7 buildings in all. The map on the UNESCO Web site shows a much larger conservation zone covering all the central site plus a few other churches and some old city walls but whether this whole zone was inscribed isn’t clear. The 2003 “Peridoic Reporting” summary report boldly states - “Status of Site Boundaries • The demarcation line and buffer zone are adequate.”!!!

But all is not well in paradise! Something which surprised me was the very high profile taken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the site which includes active churches. An enormous sign spelling out the full name of the organization occupies a central location in front of the cathedral/St Francis churches – UNESCO logos are much less in evidence!! And ASI is obviously proud of what it has achieved in terms of conservation. An exhibition in St Francis church shows a whole series of “before” and “after” photos which seem to show that the ASI has been doing a good job! But the 2003 reporting notes “A Court case is pending before the District Court filed by the Archaeological Survey of India with respect to the ownership of the churches and convents, which have been declared as Centrally Protected Monuments of National Importance through the Gazette notification. As per the notification the churches and convents are declared as Centrally Protected Monuments of National importance and Archaeological Survey of India is the sole custodian. However, the ownership of these monuments were changed in favour of church authorities by Department of Survey and Land Records without honouring the notification and the
same is being challenged by the Archaeological Survey of India by filing a writ petition in the District court” The dispute rumbles on and boiled over again in Feb 2011 a month before our visit . In the light of usch issues it is perhaps worth pointing out that ICOMOS recommended “deferral” for Goa until management issues had been sorted out!
Date posted: March 2011
Neville Bulsara (India):
It's really unfortunate that Goa sees more visitors flocking it's beaches compared to those who visit the grandoise structures at Old Goa. You'll find some photos of the churches of Old Goa in the galleries section of my travel and documentary photography website at
Date posted: October 2006
Sri Ganesh (USA):
I visited Goa while in college in India along with friends during the Christmas-New year week in 1983. The Churches and Convents of Goa gave the feeling of being in Europe right in India! The Basilica of Bom Jesus was noteworthy and I was fortunate to visit that when Saint Francis Xavier's preserved body was exposed to the public!
Date posted: September 2006
Rodolfo de Sousa (Germany):
Although I'm a German national of Indian origin and have travelled widely all over Europe, nowhere have I seen windows like we have in Goa. They're unique. They're terrific. They're superb. And they're historic!
And they're disappearing!
Can't UNESCO do something to save them from extinction?
Robin Huggins (France - but English ex pat):
We visited goa earlier earlier this year and were most impressed with the Perreira-Braganza/Menezes-Braganza house, in the village of Chandor. Apart from the colonial mansion the fact that the original furnishings still exist is amazing. Is this mansion outside the scope of World Heritage?
If not it is certainly worth considering, at the moment they seem to rely on viitors donations, and as a consequence any retoration work is painfully slow. One very worrying aspect seems to be the total lack of security. I am sure some of the artifacts are very valuable indeed. I would be grateful for your comments.

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Site info

Churches and Convents of Goa
Country: India
Inscribed: 1986
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (2) (4) (6)
Category: Religious structure, Christian Urban landscape, Colonial

Site history:
1986 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription
"Churches and Mosques of Goa" deferred until receipt of necessary info

Site links

Official website:
»Archaeological Survey of India

In the news:
» ASI flayed for negligence as rain enters Old Goa heritage church (02-03-2015).
» 3 Old Goa churches to get facelift (09-07-2014).
» Goa churches to undergo major restoration (26-05-2013).
» Churches in Goa ban tourists during holy week services (01-04-2013).
» Goa's Basilica to get back red clay tile roof (16-06-2012).
» Asbestos threat to Goa basilica's heritage status (10-05-2011).
» Goa church lobbies against garbage dump near heritage complex (28-07-2009).

Related links:
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Related Forum posts:
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Getting there

This WHS has 1 location(s).


Built in Laterite . Manueline style .
Cultural sites damaged by fire since inscription .
Indian Ocean . Spice Route .
Human Activity
Festivals .
Individual People
Alfonso de Albuquerque . Da Cunha Family . Magellan . Mapped or Illustrated by Blaeu . Matteo Ricci . Sir Richard Francis Burton . Vasco da Gama .
Religion and Belief
Cathedrals . Christian Churches in non Christian countries . Christian Pilgrimage Sites . Religious Relics .
Built in the 16th century .

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