Basilica of Born Jesus
The Bom Jesus Basilica, perhaps Goa’s most famous church and among the most revered by Christians worldwide, is partially in ruins but still a model of simplicity and elegance, and a fine example of Jesuit architecture.
his is the only church in Old Goa, which is not plastered on the outside, the lime plaster having been stripped off by a zealous Portuguese conservationist in 1950. Located at Old Goa, 10 kilometres east of Panaji, the Bom Jesus Basilica is a World Heritage Monument.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus or Borea Jezuchi Bajilika ( Portuguese: Basílica do Bom Jesus ) is located in Goa, India, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. The church is located in Old Goa, which was the capital of Goa in the early days of Portuguese rule.
‘Bom Jesus’ (literally, ‘Good (or Holy) Jesus’) is the name used for the infant Jesus. The Jesuit church is India’s first minor basilica, and is considered to be one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India.
Construction work on the church began in 1594 and the church was consecrated in May 1605 by the archbishop, Dom Fr. Aleixo de Menezes. This world heritage monument has emerged as a landmark in the history of Christianity. It contains the body of St. Francis Xavier, a very close friend of St. Ignatius Loyola with whom he founded the Society of Jesus, the (Jesuits). Francis Xavier died on Sancian Island while enroute to continental China on ( December 2, 1552 ).
The body of Francis Xavier was first taken to Malacca and two years later shipped back to Goa. It is said that the saint’s body was as fresh as the day it was buried. The remains of the saint still attract a huge number of devotees ( Christian and non-Christian alike ) from all over the world, especially during the public viewing of his body every ten years (last held in 2004). The saint is said to have miraculous powers of healing.
This is one of the oldest churches in Goa, as well as in India. The floor is of marble inlaid with precious stones. Apart from the elaborate gilded altars, the interior of the church is simple. The church also holds paintings of scenes taken from the life of St. Francis Xavier. The mausoleum, on the top of which is placed the silver casket with the body of St. Francis Xavier (1696), was the gift of the last of the Medicis, Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The mausoleum was designed by the 17th-century Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini. It took ten years to complete. The casket containing his body is made of silver. The holy relics of the saint are displayed every ten years during the anniversary of the saint’s death. His liturgical feast is the third of December.
On the upper level, overlooking the tomb, is the Bom Jesus Basilica Art Gallery, containing the works of the Goan surrealist painter, Dom Martin.
Author and fellow Jesuit Anthony De Mello was also from Goa and does mention the basilica in his writings. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is more than 400 years old and is open to the public everyday. The body of St. Francis Xavier is kept in a well-decorated casket, which can be seen in the photographs below. Solemn exhibitions of the ‘body’ are held every ten years. Some photos taken inside the church are attached for better understanding of the art work of that time. These art works are called “murals”.
The Professed House
The Professed House of the Jesuits located next door to the Basilica is a two storey laterite building covered with lime plaster which actually predates the Basilica, having been completed in 1585 despite strong opposition to the Jesuits. Jesuit missions to the eastern regions were planed and organised from here.
Completed in 1589 under the able supervision of Br. Domingos Fernandes, the Cassa Professa or the “Professed House” according to Jesuit law is one which is intended for the exercise of the ministries of the Society and should be conspicuous for the exactness of the Jesuit way of life.
There is an extremely interesting story behind the construction of the Church. The Jesuits faced strong opposition from the Senate, the Santa Cassa da Misericordiaa and the Franciscans for their planned construction in the spacious square called Terreiro dos Gallos. However on the night preceding the day on which they were to be legally restrained from building the site, two fathers and one brother converted a small house into a temporary church and on its door inscribed the word ‘JESUS’.
The next morning the Church was thrown open and a bell rang to call the surprised people from the neighbourhood to celebrate mass. After that the opponents were never able to dislodge the occupants.
The ravages of time and the raging flames of the great fire in 1663 destroyed some of its lengthy corridors and spacious apartments but it was rebuilt in 1783. One more storey on the top was demolished between 1886 and 1887.
Today there’s a modern art gallery attached to the Basilica.
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