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
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
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
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.