Goa is India’s party central, so much so that it is sometimes hailed as the Las Vegas of India! And while I have enjoyed some of the wildest parties here, I must say there is so much more to the place than just that. A true Goan experience entails a tour of not just its throbbing beaches but also its spice farms, cashew plantations, churches and cathedrals, forts and caves, and lakes and mountains. And on your trip to Goa, the one place that you must visit is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in old Goa. With more than 400 years, it is one of the oldest churches in the world and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will be fascinated to know that the Basilica of Bom Jesus is the only church in India that can boast a Golden Rose Plant, conferred by Pope Pius XII in 1953. Do you want to know more about the grand Goan church before exploring it in person? Well, then keep reading!
The foundation stone of the Basilica of Bom Jesus was laid in 1594 and the construction of the majestic structure was finally completed after a decade in 1605. The church is one of the finest instances of Baroque architecture in India and its interiors are inspired by the Mosaico-Corinthian architectural style. And you do not need to be a connoisseur of art to be captivated by the stunning beauty of the gorgeous church. Even if you don’t know anything about any architectural style, the intricate craftsmanship on the monument will fascinate you. What really sets this church apart from the other ones across Goa is the non-plastered look of its exterior. The bare look of the laterite stones adds a unique touch to the magnificent structure.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus boasts marble mosaic floors, basalt pillars, and extensive use of gemstones. The palatial structure houses one sacristy, two chapels, and an incredible, ornate gilded altar. While the entire edifice is adorned with impressive carvings, paintings, statues, and cenotaphs, it is the golden altar that casts a spell on visitors such as me! Look out for the art gallery housed inside the church complex. The art gallery is the largest of its kind in the entire continent of Asia and is home to remarkable Italian paintings that date back to the 1970s. The two largest and most famous paintings at this art gallery are ‘Genesis’ and ‘The Last Judgement’. If you ask me, it will be wise of you to opt for a guided tour of the church. You can hire freelance tour guides for as less as INR 150.
Every year, thousands of people from around the globe visit the church to witness the mummy of none other than St. Francis Xavier, the saint with miraculous healing powers and the founder of the Society of Jesus. St. Francis Xavier died of fever on December 3, 1552, while on his way to China and initially his body was taken to Portugal. It was only in 1554 that his body was sent to Goa. The relics of the Saint are kept inside a silver casket in the chapel on the southern side of the church. The silver casket is adorned with relief carvings depicting tales from the life of the Saint. The three-tiered bier on which the casket rests was a gift from Medicis, Cosimo III, the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The church organises a grand exposition of the Saint’s mummy on December 3 every 10 years. The last decennial exposition happened in 2014 and the next one is due in 2024. There is also an annual feast in the Saint’s honour on December 3 which is followed by a Novena of 9 days. This is the busiest time of the year at the church as open-air masses and various festivities keep the spirits of the visitors high.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus does not close its gates for a single day in a year. It remains open for visitors between 9 AM and 6:30 PM from Monday to Saturday, and from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM on Sundays. December is the busiest time of the year at not just the church but in all of Goa. So, if you intend to visit anytime in the last month of the year, make sure you book hotels in advance to avoid any hassle.
The church is located at Bainguinim in old Goa which is only 10 kilometres away from the state capital Panjim. A cab, bike, or moped will get you to the church within half an hour from the Panjim bus stand. The nearest railway station from the church is the Madgaon railway station from where the church is only 35 kilometres away. This distance can be easily traversed via a bus or a cab, plenty of which are available outside the station. The Dabolim Airport, Goa’s international airport, is located 24 kilometres away from the church and cabs ply regularly between the two places.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is home to the sacred relics of several Saints other than St. Francis Xavier. Not only that, it was India’s first church to have become a minor basilica in 1946. Today, it is much more than a religious center. It is a cultural emblem that has made indelible marks in the history of Goa. It is the most visited church along the length and breadth of the state and also the most revered one across the country. You must add the Basilica of Bom Jesus to your Goa itinerary for a comprehensive experience.
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