Basilica of Bom Jesus – Goa
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a Roman Catholic basilica located in Goa, India. 10 km east of Panaji, along the Mandovi river, is the town of Old Goa, where lie some of India’s greatest churches and among them, the most popular and the most revered by Christians worldwide is the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The Basilica, dedicated to Infant Jesus, has been declared a World Heritage Monument now. ‘Bom Jesus’ means ‘Infant Jesus’ or ‘Good Jesus’. Renowned throughout the Catholic world, the 16th century cathedral is India’s first Minor Basilica, and is considered as one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India. The layout follows simple Renaissance norms while the detailing and decoration is unabashed Baroque. It’s an opulent structure which incorporates white marble and has beautifully gilded altars decorated with frescoes and inlay work.
The Basilica houses the consecrated relics of St. Francis Xavier, benefactor holy person of Goa who kicked the bucket in 1552. The human remaining parts of the holy person were talented to the congregation by Cosimo de Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Today, the preserved body lies in a water/air proof glass final resting place situated in a silver coffin made by a seventeenth century Florentine stone carver, Giovanni Batista Foggini. As per his desires, his remaining parts were moved to Goa the next year after his demise. It is said that, while moving, the holy person’s body was discovered to be as new as the day it was covered. This wonderful marvel keeps on drawing in the ardent from all grounds, and an ‘Work’ or public review of his body occurs, when consistently, to permit pioneers to see it. The holy person is accepted to have wonderful forces of mending, and explorers come from everywhere the world to offer petitions. The silver coffin is brought down for public survey just during the public composition. Last composition was in 2004.
Complicatedly cut basalt embellishments make it perhaps the most extravagant veneer in Goa. The design follows basic Renaissance standards while the itemizing and enhancement is shameless Baroque. The tomb of St. Xavier is a wonder of Italian workmanship (the marble base) and Hindu craftsmanship (the silver coffin). The extravagantly overlaid raised areas are lovely instances of figures and carvings in wood, stone, gold and rock. Segments are covered with marble and trimmed with valuable stones. The congregation additionally houses artworks portraying the life of St. Francis Xavier. Guests are overwhelmed by the profound otherworldliness and serenity of the spot. Consistently a great many individuals visit the house of prayer particularly in December. An outing to Goa is inadequate without a visit to the adored Basilica.
Masses are held regularly at the Bom Jesus Basilica, the timings are as follows
Sunday – 8.00am, 9.15am and 6.00pm in Konkani, 10.15am in English
Mon to Sat – 7.00am, 8.00am and 6.00pm
Mass is also held at the chapel of St. Francis Xavier on the 6th of every month at 10.00am. Holy hour is held on the first Friday of every month at 5.00pm followed by Mass.
If you do not want to hear Mass, the Basilica is open to the public for viewing and exploration at the following times, Mon to Sat – 9.00am to 6.30pm Sunday – 10.30am to 6.30pm
History, Construction and Architecture
Try not to let its unassuming air fool you, the Bom Jesus Basilica is a World Heritage Monument, and has been initiated so by UNESCO. It’s un-put outside shows up from the start to be mediocre when contrasted with the shining veneers of places of worship like the Se Cathedral, yet this little Basilica is wealthy in craftsmanship, design and history, and the relics of Saint Francis Xavier are revered here.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a monument typical of the classic forms of plane architecture, introduced by the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits. The façade, which is of granite, represents features of five styles of architecture: Roman, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian and Composite. It is a large single Nave structure built ( 1595-1605) and paid for with legacies left by Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas, a wealthy Portuguese Captain of Cochin.
It is the only monument with a façade not covered with plaster. The plaster was stripped off in 1970 by an over-zealous Portuguese conservationist who believed that this would help preserve the carvings on the façade better. Unfortunately, even though this was soon seen to be a false assumption, no one has put the plaster back.
The foundation stone for this church was laid on the 24th of November, 1594. Archbishop Rev. Fr. Aleixo de Menezes consecrated the church, on its completion on the 15th of May 1605. However, it was only raised to the status of “minor Basilica” in 1946.
The three-storied structure stands 75ft wide and 78½ft tall. The façade of the church, though un-plastered, is a magnificent example of baroque architecture. It combines elements of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian design, and is divided into four parts.
The lowest section has three doors set into it, a large one in the middle with two smaller ones flanking it. The second section has three square windows whose positioning corresponds to that of the doors. The third section has three circular windows whilst the last section forms a quadrangle, lavishly decorated with arabesque. This quadrangular pediment also has “IHS” carved into it. This is the Jesuit emblem and stands for “Iesus Hominum Salvator”, which is Latin for, “Jesus, Saviour of Men”. All the sections have carved basalt pillars. The basalt was mined from Bassein in the North of Goa.
Interior and Artwork
The interior of the church is a study in contrasts. The design in itself is simple, but the floor is laid with the finest marble, and was inlaid with precious stones. The altar is elaborately carved and gilded.
The retable of the main altar exhibits a huge statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder (along with St. Francis Xavier who was a founding member) of the Society of Jesus and below it, a small image of Bom Jesus (Child Jesus), the patron of the church.
On the southern side of the transept lies the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier. This chapel has carved and gilded columns and wood-carved floral decorations. This is where the relics of the saint are kept. There is a gorgeous silver statue placed in front of the silver casket where the body of St. Francis Xavier reposes.
The interior of the Basilica measures 83ft in length, 51ft in width and 61ft in height. It is laid out in the orthodox cruciform fashion with a single nave and transept. The ceiling was once vaulted, but has since been replaced with a simple wooden one. The main altar measures a massive 54ft by 30ft. The interiors, while being furnished with the best of materials show a remarkable simplicity typical of Renaissance design.
The Basilica contains two chapels, three altars, a sacristy and a choir loft. There is also a belfry at the back. The door through which one enters stands beneath the choir loft. To the right is an altar which is dedicated to St. Anthony and to the left is a well-carved statue of St. Francis Xavier. On the northern wall of the nave is the cenotaph of Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas. He was the Captain of Cochin and his estate made possible the construction of the Basilica.
The columns which support the choir loft bear plaques inscribed in Portuguese and Latin detailing the dates of the Basilica’s construction and consecration. In the transept are two altars which flank the main one. They are highly carved and decorated and are dedicated to St. Michael and Our Lady of Good Hope.
The main altar is extremely well carved and gilded. It is backed by an ornate reredos which stretches from floor to ceiling, its baroque carvings in sharp contrast to the classically plain design of the Basilica. The reredos has within it a large statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola protecting the Infant Jesus. His eyes are raised to a carved disc, once more bearing the Jesuit emblem of “IHS”. Above this medallion is a depiction of the Holy Trinity, i.e. The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
On the northern side of the transept is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. On the southern side is the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier. Adjoining this chapel is a corridor leading to the sacristy, accessed by a marvellously carved wooden door. It is a vaulted wooden structure ending in an apse. In this reposes an altar which has an iron chest containing the Golden Rose which was bestowed upon the Se Cathedral by Pope Pius XII.
The walls are hung with paintings of the saints and the sacristy also contains a beautifully carved chest of drawers. Near the iron chest is a painting of the relics of St. Francis Xavier, done about 100 years ago.
Modern Art Gallery
The Basilica also contains a modern art gallery with paintings depicting various Biblical scenes. The gallery can be accessed using the stairs near the sacristy. It is one of the largest of its kind in Asia. It contains 36 paintings executed between the years 1973 and 1976. The artist was paid only for the materials used as his talent was given gratis, for the greater glory of God.
The most notable paintings are entitled “The Last Judgement” and “Genesis”
Tomb of St. Francis Xavier
Fr. Francis Xavier died of a fever in 1552 on the island of Shangchaun, whilst waiting for a boat to travel to China. His last rites were performed and he was laid to rest in a simple coffin in the Portuguese colony of Malacca. When his remains were disinterred some years later, they were found to be “fresh and intact”. Upon hearing of this, the Vatican canonized him a saint. His remains were buried in three different places before they came to their final resting place in Goa.
The arrangements of keeping the body of St Francis Xavier in the Chapel were completed on 24th April 1659. The mausoleum, in Florentine style, was the offer of the last of the Medici’s, Cosimo III, Duke of Tuscany. It is a masterpiece setting and was made by Giovanni Batista Foggini and assembled in Goa by Placido Francesco Ramponi.
The silver casket is made up of silver panels which depict 32 scenes from the life of the saint. These panels were created for this purpose by Goan silversmiths under the supervision of Fr. Marco Mastrilli SJ.
The construction of the Professed house, which lies next door to the Basilica, began in 1585 and so predates the Basilica by a few years. It is a two-storied building, built of laterite rock and covered with lime plaster. Its construction was completed in 1589 under the aegis of Br. Domingos Fernandes.
This became the mission centre for all Jesuit missions to the eastern regions of the known world. The “Casa Professa”, according to Jesuit canon, was intended for the exercise of the Ministries of the Society of Jesus, and should be conspicuous for its exact adherence to the Jesuit way of life.
Legend and Lore
The legend has it that the Jesuits who wanted to construct the Professed House and later the Basilica met with stiff opposition from the Portuguese administration. They had a house on the property, but were being denied permission to build the church. On the eve of the day when they were to be evicted, the wily priests converted the house into a make-shift church, painting the word “Jesus” on the door and putting up a bell. The next morning the bell was rung, much to the surprise of the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, to call them for Mass. After that, the Portuguese were never able to evict the Jesuits from this place.
Another interesting tale from the history of this Basilica is that the Duke of Tuscany, who sponsored the building of the mausoleum of St. Francis Xavier, did so out of gratitude. He had been presented with the pillow upon which the saint’s head had been resting by the Jesuit Procurator General of Goa. He felt that such a great saint deserved a grander resting place.
Many stories have originated around the relics of St. Francis Xavier. Some believers claim that his body shrinks every year, and when it shrinks to nothing, it will signify the end of the world. Others tell a tale of a woman, who whilst bending to kiss his feet in devotion bit off his big toe. They say that though the toe was bitten off a corpse it yet bled and so she was caught out and the toe returned to the rest of the relics.
Simple yet regal, austere yet opulent, unassuming yet grand, this Basilica has risen from its humble beginnings into a world famous monument that commands respect and worship from religious pilgrims and architectural buffs alike. The atmosphere of the Basilica is cool, calm and majestic. The awe-inspiring feeling of being in the presence of something much greater than oneself is a truly humbling experience.
- Quadrangular pediment at the top of the un-plastered façade
- Carved columns both inside and outside
- Statue of St. Francis Xavier
- Main altar with carvings and gilding
- Gilded reredos with the statues of St. Ignatius and the Infant Jesus
- Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
- Chapel of St. Francis Xavier
- Sacristy – chest containing the Golden Rose
- Painting of the relics of the saint
- Paintings of the saints
- Modern art gallery paintings, especially “The Last Judgement” and “Genesis”