Old Goa - Today

IGREJA E CONVENTO DE STA. MONICA
(ST. MONICA'S CON VENT AND CHURCH)
In front of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, there is a hill called Monte Santo. It was renamed Monte de S. Monica and Monte de Siao soon after the erection of St. Monica's. Here there was a place called I/ha de Fogo (Fire island) so named because the women of bad reputation and prostitutes lived there. Archbishop D. Fr. Aleixo de Menezes expelled them and purchased their houses. He decided to build a Convent for nuns and the foundation stone was laid by him on July 2, 1606. Long before, this need had been felt, but the erection of the Convent was sanctioned only in 1598. The building work was completed in 1627. In his letter of 4th January 1630, the Vice-Roy Count of Linhares wrote that with the exception of the Convent of Odivellas near Lisbon, this Convent was larger than any other in Portugal. It was the only one in Goa until 1886.

The Convent was destined not only for the nuns called daughters of St. Monica (mother of St. Augustine), but also for the widows (who wanted to dedicate themselves to the service of God) and for the protection of the ladies whose husbands were in distant lands defending the Portuguese Empire. The Convent was open to everybody. However, there were two classes of nuns: those with the black veil or choir nuns were named Madres (only the daughters of an European father or mother could belong to this class), and those with white veils or Rosario nuns were named Sorores who were natives. The Government had recommended that this difference be abolished but nobody paid any heed and the classes continued.

Soon after its foundation in 1606, eighteen ladies form the Retreat of Our Lady of Serra were admitted provisionally by D. Aleixo de Menezes. The rich widow of Tana, D. Filipa Ferreira who had 200 slaves, was one of them.

The rules were compiled by D. Aleixo de Menezes on the model of those of St. Augustine. The King of Portugal accepted the patronage of this Convent by a letter dated March 26, 1636. Thereupon, the Convent was called the Royal Convent of St. Monica. King Filipe Ill granted permission for 100 nuns to live in this Convent.

On the Christmas night of December 24, 1636, a tire destroyed the Convent partially, but it was rebuilt by Fr. Diogo de Santa Anna who was the Administrator and the spiritual father of the nuns.

Altogether 661 Madres spent their lives in this Convent from 1607 to 1834. In 1804, there were 42 black veiled nuns, nineteen white veiled nuns, four novices and five students; there were not more than thirty in 1827. While all the other convents were closed in 1835, only St. Monica's was left open but admission was forbidden to novices; consequently the number of nuns gradually decreased. In 1856, there were not more than eighteen nuns. This number was reduced to four in the next nine years and in 1878 there was only the old Soror Josepha do Coração de Jesus, aunt of Viscount of Bucellas and Baron of Combarjua. She lived in this Convent till her death with only the servants to keep her company. After that, the few surviving servants mocas went on living in the Convent till all of them died one by one, excepttwo who were sent home. Later, the Convent was converted into a residence for the pilgrims. At present it is a study centre for nuns belonging to different Congregations.

In his book "Historia da Fundaçao do Real Convento de Santa Monica da cidade de Goa", published in Lisbon in 1699, Fr. Agostinho de Santa Maria describes the origin and the administra-tion of the Convent. The nuns who took the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and lived a cloistered life, put on a white habit and were under the guidance of a prioress chosen from among themselves every third year. The nuns led a very hard life; they subjected themselves to rigorous fasts, night vigils, heavy work, and the solitude of perpetual cloister. Soon after the oath of profession, the novice received a haircut and wore the new white habit with the veil. The Prioress gave her a new name and Te Deum was sung.

In the morning, the nuns were busy with needle work till the twelve o'clock dinner bell. In the evening, they had choir prayers and garden service. They could talk only to their parents, brothers and paternal uncles, not more than once in a month, on a day other than Sunday, feast day and communion day (they received communion only twice a week and on feast days) and outside Lent or Advent. Even then, they had to talk in a room called Locutorio and in the presence of a witness. No male was allowed access to the Convent, except the physician in the case of sickness, the priest for Extreme unction and the Archbishop who visited the Convent annually as its superior but always accompa-nied by two or three priests. Even women were not easily admitted, except as servants.

A queer nomenclature was used in this Convent: the prioress was known as pavao (Peacock); the novice mistress as pintasilgo (goldfinch); the confession mistress as pardal (sparrow); the sacristan as rouxinol (nightingale); the doorkeeper as gab (cock), etc.

The nuns stitched religious vestments. The art of making artificial flowers had its origin in this Convent. These nuns excelled in cooking; some of their recipes were followed in many families and they influenced the Indo-Portuguese culinary art. They were experts in making preserves of fruits, syrups and sweets of different sorts such as the doce-baji made of wheat and coconut, similar to the French pets de nonne. Their garden was a real marvel with beautiful and aromatic flowers. They grew the best of fruits and different kinds of vegetables. There were about twelve wells in their compound for irrigation. Each well had a biblical name such as the Good Samaritan well, the Jacob well, etc.

Adjoining to this Convent, is the Church. The façade of the Convent and the Church is supported by three arches. The frontal of the Convent's entrance bears the symbols of Eucharist, the Paschal Lamb and the Holy Spirit with an inscription. The ground floor has a gate called Portaria de fora from which the visitors were allowed to talk to the nuns. This gate opens into the apartments called Aposentos de Porteira and Locutorio de Fora. Then come the Portaria de clausura and Casa de Rodo where a nun remained in charge of the keys. The door between these two apartments was called Porta de proibiçao. Nobody could enter through this door unless with the written permission of the Bishop; the transgressor incurred the penalty of excommunication ipso facto.

The Convent is quadrangular; it's large courtyard was called Vale de lirios and the well in the centre was called Fonte de Salvador. There were altogether eight dormitories viz., Madre de Deus with eight cells; Sant' Anna with sixteen Divino Salvador with eleven; Santo Agostinho with sixteen, Sepulcro, Belem, Senhora de Candeia and De cima. There were special dormitories for the servants viz., Dorm itorio das Africanas for negro servants and Dormitorio de S. Tome for the Indians.

The wall of the compound was so strong that to describe the solidity of a building it was said to be as strong as the wall of Sta. Monica's compound.

The church has two porticos with granite carvings representing a caravel and a dragon respectively. The interior of the Church is in Doric style while the exterior is a Tuscan-Corinthian combina-tion. The main altar has a rich retable divided into three parts; the first one has the statue of St. Augustine with St. Thomas of Vila Nova and St. Ambrosius on either side, the second one has Sta. Monica flanked by Sta. Rita and Sta. Melania, the third one has the representation of Calvary with St. Peter and St. Paul on bOth the sides. The artistic pulpit has the sculptures of Our Lady of Piety, St. Augustine and two Agustinian bishops. It is interesting to see the cashew shaped ear rings of the angels carved on the side altars.

The nuns used to hear Mass from the choir loft which is in the inner part of the chapel; there were railings through which they could see the priest without they themselves being seen.

The Church has an image of Crucified Christ which was formerly in the choir loft and at present is placed in a tribune in the nave of the Church. It is held in great veneration because it is said that on February 8, 1636, the image opened its eyes and from its wounds blood was seen flowing. This marvel occurred again on the 12th of the same month in the presence of the Viceroy and fidalgos. The Inquisitors and the Bishop also witnessed it. Its feast is celebrated in the Archdiocese of Goa on November 27. An artistically stitched banner is also exposed on this occasion. It is said that when the Dutch attacked the Mormugao harbour in 1683, the Viceroy requested special prayers of the nuns. The nuns stitched a banner with Portugal's emblem and the picture of Immaculate Conception on one side and that of the miraculous crucifix on the other. This banner was hoisted in the Mormugao fort and it is said that it gave courage to the soldiers to fight on to victory.

Another event which is narrated in the Official records of the Secretariat of the Government of Goa (Livro das Moncoes 'MS' No. 13, fol 18) and attested by many, refers to Soror Maria de Jesus, daughter of a German nobleman, known in the world as Dona Maria de Crom. SiTe died in this convent on January 2, 1683, at the age of 78, with stigmata on her hands and feet, which were examined and confirmed by the Chief physician, Dr. S. de Azavedo, other physcians, surgeons, as well as by the Inquisitors, the Chapter and others.

This Church has three bells; the sound of the bigger one corresponds to the musical note Ia; and was called Santo Cristo; That of the second bell corresponds to do, while the third bell sounds the octave of the first.