Se Cathedral Church

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Standing with its gracious façade facing east to welcome each new day, and to the west of the great square Terreiro de Sabaio, Se Cathedral is the most imposing of all the churches at Old Goa, its vaulted interior overwhelming visitors with its sheer grandeur. Se Cathedral Goa, is dedicated to St. Catherine

Timings
Open everyday from 7.30 am to 6 pm.
Mass Timings
Weekdays – 7.30 am and 6.00 pm
Sunday – 7.15 am, 10.00 am and 4.00 pm

Claim to fame : The Se Cathedral wast built to commemorate the victory of Afonso Albuquerque, which was won on the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, this edifice is the largest church in Asia. It is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Goa.

With its superb Iberian façade, soaring ceilings, fabulous mosaic work, intricate wood and gilded carvings, the Se Cathedral, also sometimes called St. Catherine’s cathedral is an absolute must-see for any visitor in Goa.

Must See :

  • The existing bell tower containing the Golden Bell
  • The baptismal font used by St. Francis Xavier
  • The main altar with its gilded reredos depicting scenes from the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria as well as her martyrdom.
  • The Chapel of the Cross of Miracles, where a vision of the Christ was seen on the plain and unadorned cross in 1919.
  • The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with its skillfully carved and gilded wall and ceiling.
  • The wooden filigree screens separating the chapels from the nave.
  • The six additional altars in the transept with the paintings depicting the lives of the saints
  • The 18th century organ housed in one of the galleries.
  • The statuary and paintings along the walls and in the niches of the pillars, including statues of St. Francis Xavier, St Ignatius of Loyola, St. Peter, St Paul and St. Christopher.

History, Construction and Architecture

The construction of Se Cathedral in Goa started in 1562 and ended in 1652. The hundred years spent on this construction, have indeed been well worth it, as the proud cathedral still stands tall and almost unblemished today. Built on a raised laterite plinth and covered in lime plaster, this cathedral measures 250 feet (76 m) in length, 181 feet (55 m) in breadth whilst its frontispiece stands 115 feet (35 m) high

The construction began during the reign of King Dom Sebastiao, under the administration of the Archbishops of Goa and the ensuing rulers were charged with completing it using the monies from the Royal Treasury. It was substantially completed by 1619 but the main altars were not erected until 1652, however, it was consecrated in 1640.

The Se Cathedral is built in the Portuguese-Manueline style. This sumptuous, composite style of architecture was extremely popular in the late 16th Century. It combine elements of Late Gothic architecture with the Spanish Plateresque style, Mudejar, Flemish architecture and Italian Urban design. The exterior of this great cathedral is of the Tuscan order of architecture, notable for its plainness and simplicity.

Interior and Artwork

The interior is laid out in a traditional cruciform shape, even though the exterior appears rectangular. The interior architecture is Corinthian. The main altar is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. Besides the main altar there are eight chapels along the sides of the nave and six altars at the transept.

Pope Pius the XII conferred upon this shrine the Golden Rose, which is a gold ornament, a token of reverence and affection. The ornament itself has since been placed on the tomb of St. Francis Xavier.

Visitors to this shrine should make it a point to see the magnificent reredos above the main altar whose six gilded panels depict the life of Saint Catherine, the fifteen communion tables, dedicated to Our Lady of Three Needs, Our Lady of Hope and Our Lady of Anguish and the baptismal font, built in 1532 which was used by St. Francis Xavier to baptize converts. Also worth seeing, is the chapel of the Cross of Miracles, where a vision of the Christ has been said to have appeared in 1919.

As you enter through the main façade, there are Corinthian columns supported on plinths, with a pediment surmounting the portico with a Latin inscription recording the beginning of its construction in 1562 by Dom Sebastiao and the instructions for its completion by future Monarchs.

The Baptismal font, used by St. Francis Xavier is to the right of the entrance and faces two statues, one of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the other of St. Francis Xavier himself, whose sacred relics were first displayed in the Se Cathedral.

The cathedral interior contains soaring ceilings supported by massive pillars on which the choir loft rests. The nave is barrel-vaulted, whilst the transept is rib vaulted. On either side of the nave there are four chapels. Two of these chapels have been concealed by wonderfully intricate wooden filigree screens, which have been carved to resemble foliage. On the right side of the nave you will find the chapels of St Anthony, St Bernard, the Cross of Miracles and the Holy Ghost whilst the ones on the left are devoted to Our Lady of Virtues, St. Sebastian, the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Life. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament has a beautifully decorated and gilded wall and ceiling, completely at odds with the rest of its rather Spartan interior.

The main altar is intricately and wonderfully carved and gilded; additionally it is backed by an awe-inspiring reredos depicting scenes of St. Catherine’s life and her martyrdom. Near the altar are seats for the Canon, and the Throne of the Archbishop. There is also a carved ebony stand which was once in the Church of St. Francis of Assissi. Set into the pillars, in the nave, on either side of this altar are wooden statues of St. Peter and St. Paul whilst a massive painting of St. Christopher is suspended beneath the choir loft.

There are two wooden pulpits projecting from the columns on the right of the nave, and a gallery in which is kept an 18th Century organ. The transept holds six additional altars. The ones on the right are devoted to St. Anna, Our Lady of Dolours and St. Peter, while those on the left are those of Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Three Necessities and Our Lady of Hope. The arches containing four of these altars are decorated with paintings of scenes from the lives of the saints.

St. Catherine of Alexandria

Usually numbered among early women martyrs, Catherine of Alexandria holds a special place among the prophetic saints in the church because of her role as philosophical defender of the faith. She is also the patroness of Christian philosophers besides being the patroness of the City of Old Goa, aka Velha Goa or Goa Velha.

In Church art, St. Catherine of Alexandria, is depicted wearing a crown, (denoting her royal Birth), holding a book, (denoting knowledge), and steering a spiked wheel (denoting her martyrdom). The reason for this is tradition is to denote the notable epochs in her life.

The story goes that Catherine was born of a noble family of Alexandria, and was an extremely learned girl. She was converted from paganism to Christianity by a vision of Our Lady, the Madonna and baby, and she dared to protest the persecution of the Christians under the Roman Emperor Maxentius. Since he was unable to refute the arguments she raised directly, the Emperor had a battery of 50 eminent philosophers assembled to counter her views. However, their admittance of defeat before her prowess, and their subsequent profession of Christian faith rung the death knell both for them and for her.

They were burned alive, whilst she was scourged and put in prison where she succeeded in converting not only the gaolers but the Emperor’s wife, Valeria Maximilla, as well. All told, as many as 200 people were said to have been converted after listening to her eloquent profession of the Christian faith.

As a result of these conversions and her refusal to yield under torture, she was sentenced to death by means of being fastened to a spiked breaking wheel. However, the wheel mysteriously broke apart, leaving Catherine miraculously unscathed; which is why she is known as the patroness of the wheel-wrights. She was finally beheaded and the angels are said to have taken her remains, and laid them to rest atop Mount Sinai.

Legend and Lore

Contrary to the idea that this chapel was built using funds from the Royal Treasury, some sources instead claim that it was built using money from the sale of properties that were impounded by the government.

The Cross of Miracles (Khuris Milagre) is also credited with phenomenal power and significance some legends state that it is constantly, if slowly, growing, whilst others claim to have seen water spring from the rock upon which the cross is built.

This Cathedral in Goa is not only worth a visit in its own right, but it is also convenient to several other tourist spots. The convent which adjoined the cathedral has been converted into an Archaeological Museum which is open to the public and the world famous Bom Jesus Basilica, lies just on the other side of the square. Small wonder then, that no visit to Goa could be considered complete without gazing at the awe-inspiring art and architecture of this most revered cathedral.

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