April 12, 2006
St. Catherine’s is a chapel dwarfed by the mighty churches surrounding it, but it’s worth a very small detour to take in its simplicity and the tranquillity of its gardens. The chapel is well signed and a gentle walk down a flight of steps brought us to the simple primitive chapel. It was built in 1510 to commemorate Alfonso de Albuquerque’s entry into the City on St Catherine’s day, it was enlarged in 1550 and rebuilt in 1952. There a single large "open plan" room with a simple altar at the far end with large double doors set in an impressive "chunky" carved frame under a couple of arched turrets. Indeed it’s the introduction of these twin towers that set off the "trend" for the notable design of Goan Churches.
About 200 yards away from the chapel is the Archaeological museum. There’s a very small entrance fee, and the downstairs is awash with stoneware artefacts from both the pre-colonial days as well as the Portuguese occupation. This building started off life as a wing of the original Franciscan monastery and the cloisters, although somewhat neglected, are virtually intact. In the 1960s it was renovated and put to its current use as a key museum in Old Goa.Upstairs we found much more interesting, because it has a greater sense of living history about it. Here you’ll find a full portrait gallery of over Portuguese governors. They cover a whole range of styles, and although they’ve been heavily restored over the years the fascination is to be found in their posing clothes. Some were just laughable, and it was hard to think that some of these powerful guys had a handle on the fashion of the day! Immediately "next-door" to the museum is the fascinating Church of St. Francis of Assisi. It was built in 1661 on the site of an earlier Franciscan church, and although it no longer functions as a church it still retains a strong spiritual feel. I just didn’t know where to start looking, as this empty shell of a church is a mass of carvings, frescoes, paintings, and gilt work. A veritable cornucopia of art. The floor is "awash" with sculptured tombs, and a large section of this cavernous building is cordoned off to protect them from further erosion. The ornate pulpit and "busy" altar are well worth closer inspection, and the painted wooden panels in the chancel ably depict the life and times of St. Francis. The archway at the entrance of the church is a tapestry of symmetrical carvings. The overall perception of St. Francis Church is that although it generally has a weathered and faded appearance the colours are strangely appealing. In its day the pink, green, yellow, and gold would have been much more vibrant and it truly would have been a magical place for worship. We soaked in the atmosphere and appreciated this time capsule.
From journal A Day's Sightseeing in Old Goa