The Churches of Goa are generally all great specimens of Portuguese Baroque style of architecture. Many of these churches are a landmark in the history of Christianity. The churches of Old Goa remind us of a bygone era when it rivaled the magnificence of Rome. In fact Goa was known as the Pearl of the Orient in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Old Goa is located 9 Kms East of Panjim. Buses are available from Panjim Bus Stand to reach Old Goa.
October- March is th best time to Visit Goa. During this period the Sea is calm and overal weather is pleasant. Heavy Monsoons are to be expected from June- September when Beaches are to be avoided. However, being the offseason, you do end up getting great deals with Hotels! February is when the Carnival is organised and hence a good time to be in Goa.
The two churches which capture the essence of Old Goa best are The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and The Basilica of Bom Jesus.
The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is a grand piece of architecture. This was the first Church to be built in Goa. The initial structure was built in 1541. Praca de Flores" which means the "Square of Flowers" was added to the Church complex in 1843.
The Bell on top of the white edifice came in 1871 from the Augustinian Church of Our Lady in old Goa. Incidentally this Bell is supposed to be one of the largest in the world.
What strikes you the most is a magnificent flight of stairs right in the front of the structure which leads to the entrance of the Church.The main altar is dedicated to Mary Immaculate. Jesus Crucified and Our Lady of the Rosary are the other 2 altars.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus located in Old Goa the former capital of Portuguese Goa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in India. Bom Jesus which means Good Jesus, was how Infant Jesus was referred to. Basilica of Bom Jesus is a landmark in the history of Christianity. It holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier who along with St. Ignatius Loyola has founded the Society of Jesus.
The Blessed Sacrament was earlier kept on the main altar under the statue of St Ignatius and now is preserved in a gold tabernacle.
St Francis Xavier is supposed to have great powers of healing. The body of St Francis Xavier is kept in a silver casket in a mousaolem which was gifted by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The mausoleum was designed by 17th-century Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini and took ten years to build. The casket was constructed by Goan silversmiths under the supervision of Fr Marco Mastrilli.
The body of St Francis Xavier is publicly exhibited every 10 years which draws huge crowds from all over the world.
The flooring is made of marble inlaid with precious stones. There are numerous paintings depicting the life of St. Francis Xavier. The upper level houses Bom Jesus Basilica Art Gallery, which has the works of the Goan surrealist painter, Dom Martin.
A cenotaph of gilded bronze is located in the northern wall. It belongs to Dom Jeronimos Mascarenhas, the Captain of Cochin & Ormuz and the benefactor of the church.
Old Goa was founded in the 15th century by the Bijapur Kings. It was a major port on the Mandovi River. Under Adil Shah, Old Goa became the second capital of the Bijapur Empire. The city of Old Goa was captured by the Portuguese in 1510 and remained with them till 1961. From the 16th century onwards, Velha Goa, as Old Goa was called in Portuguese, became the Centre for Christianity in the East. Many religious orders set up their centers in Old Goa.
While at Old Goa, some of the other attractions worth a visit are Viceroy’s Arch, Gate of Adil Shah’s Palace, Chapel of St Anthony, Chapel of St Catherine, and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.
For a travelogue on what to see in Goa, check Goa Holiday beyond Beaches