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July 13, 2006
From journal A Week in Goa, India
September 13, 2002
I'm surprised to see so many tourists, mainly tourists from India. Old Goa's churches are familiar to me. They remind me of Portugal, Spain, Italy. They're ‘outlandish’ for Indian tourists, and that’s why they come in droves for this 'foreign' feeling. No temples, no stupas, no buddhas. They stand in awe, drinking in the beauty of of the place.
First we visited the church of St Francis of Assisi, where the walls and ceilings are gilded and carved wooden panels cover the walls.
The next church looked very much like the St Peter in Rome, and I was right the Church of St Cajetan was modeled after the St Peter. Italian friars were not allowed to build their church in Hyderabad, so they came to Goa. Old Goa or Goa Velha was the capital of the Portuguese colony. It was known as the Rome of the East. The city became famous throughout the world for the volume of trade and wealth. Its fall was as swift as its rise and eventually the city was completely abandoned. Now only the churches remain.
Actually Old Goa is a cluster of churches, a big open-air museum. It's not difficult to recognise The Basilica of Bom Jesus. It is a dark building, no plaster on the outside. This was removed because it was thought that exposure to the elements would make the building more durable. The contrary proved to be true. However, the plaster has never been put back.
You may know this name: St Francis Xavier, he was a pupil of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. In the Basilica of Bom Jesus you can find his mortal remains. That’s to say what remains. Relic hunters had taken away one arm and divided this between Jesuits in Japan and Rome, each of them wanting to have a relic of their founder. Part of the shoulder blade and the internal organs were brought to churches all over south east Asia.
When St Ignatius had died his mortal remains were covered in quicklime and did not decompose quickly. That’s why parts of his body could easily be recognized and were taken away by these relic hunters. By the end of the 17th century (he had died end of the 16th century) the body was in an advanced state of dessication. It was then placed in a glass coffin, out of view, and is exposed every 10 years. The next exposition is November 2004.
PRACTICALITIES:All buses running between Panjim and Margao or Vasco pass through Goa Velha, old Goa. The churches are within walking distance. A morning or afternoon is sufficient to see everything.
From journal Goa: Little Portugal