Don’t let its unassuming air fool you, the Bom Jesus Basilica is a World Heritage Monument, and has been christened so by UNESCO. Its un-plastered exterior appears at first glance to be inferior as compared to the sparkling facades of churches like the Se Cathedral, but this little Basilica is rich in art, architecture and history, and the relics of Saint Francis Xavier are enshrined here.
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
Claim to fame: Houses the relics of St. Francis Xavier and is the only Basilica in Goa.
- 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”
History, Construction and Architecture
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.
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.
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.
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