Old Goa - Today

CONVENTO E IGREJA DE S. FRANCISCO DE ASSIS
(THE CON VENTAND THE CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI)

This is the last among the majestic façade Churches with towers on both sides, built in Old Goa. The decadence of this type of Churches is patent here. There is no proportion between the octogonal towers and the main body, consequently the façade loses its elegance.

The Franciscans were the first religious to arrive in Goa. They accompanied Albuquerque in 1510 and preached the Gospel in the island of Anjediva (near Karwar), before the reconquest of Goa. They were followed by the Jesuits (1543), the Dominicans (1548), the Augustinians (1572), the Carmelites (1612?) and the Theatines (1640).

It is not correct to suggest that soon after the reconquest, Albuquerque offered them a mosque which was transformed in a church. The fact is that the Franciscan Antonio Louro, left Portugal in 1517, in order to build a Franciscan convent in Goa. He presented to the Governor, Lopo Soares, a royal letter from the Portuguese King by which he and his eight colleagues were permitted to erect a Convent at public expense. The Franciscans wanted to build the Convent in the city compound, but as this was small and already crowded, the Governor suggested another place. The Franciscans would not agree and the Governor allowed them to choose a big house with an adjacent garden, which belonged to the deceased tanadarJoão Machado; the house was near the black stone cross which we see in the courtyard of the present Church. The Francis-cans adapted this house for their convent. On further petitions to the King, they obtained additional ground. In 1521, the first Fran-ciscan Church was built. This Church which was dedicated to the Holy Spirit was consecrated by the Archbishop, Fr. Aleixo de Menezes, in 1603. Later in 1661, this Church was demolished on account of its weak structure and a new majestic and richly decorated, as we see today, was built; however the portico of the Old Church was retained.

The attached Convent was also ready in 1521. As it was showing signs of deacy, it was repaired in 1707 and 1762. When this house was closed in 1835, 27 Franciscans were forced to leave. The Church remained closed for a long time till 1876 when the Governor, João Tavares Almeida, opened it and solemnized St. Francis of Assisi's feast with great pomp at his own expense. In 1862, the Archbishop had suggested to the Governor that the Chorão Seminary should be transferred here, but it did not materialize due to an epidemic. Many important events took place in this Convent, such as the 3rd All India Catholic Conference in 1922 and the Fifth Indian Eucharistic Congress in 1931. At present the Archaeological Museum is housed in a portion of this Convent.

The portico which belonged to the former Church, is the only specimen besides the Rosario Church, of the Manueline style which was common in Goa in the first period after the conquest. This exquisitely carved portico, writes Cunha Rivara, represents two epochs the prosperity epoch under the Portuguese King, Dom Manuel, and epoch of decline under Dom Afonso VI. It must be however noted that this portico conveys only a dim reality of the rich Manueline architecture of that epoch. According to Rafael Moreira, this Manueline portico was executed around 1526 by Leonardo Vaz, who until 1520 had been one of the contractors active in the Mosteiro de Belem (Lisbon).

The side doors have Franciscan emblem above them. Just inside the entrance we see two basins for holy water, one in Roman and the other in Indian style. The vaulted ceiling has square panels with flower designs. The pavement is covered with stone slabs with epitaphs, adorned with coat-of-arms of different eminent persons who lay there. This Church is a real Museum of paintings depicting different episodes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi and the history of Franciscans. We find here their Saints, Martyrs, Kings, Cardinals and Bishops.

The side walls of the main chapel have eight paintings of Franciscan Kings and 16 episodes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi:

1. An angel announces the birth of Francis to his mother.
2. Three boys adore the child while three gentlemen look on.
3. Child's Baptism.
4. Two ladies take the child.
5. Christ crucified addresses to the kneeling Francis, the following words: Vade Francisce repara domum meam quae, labitur (Francis, go and repair my house which is falling down).
6. Francis renounces the paternal heritage in presence of the Bishop of Assisi.
7. Pope Honorius Ill gives to Francis the bull of his Order's erection.
8. Three beautiful dames symbolize the virtues of poverty, humility and chastity.
9. Francis plays with children.
10. Two religious fall prostrate when they see Our Lady entrusting the Child Jesus to Francis.
11. Francis accepts the sheep offered by a peasant.
12. Francis converts Meledin, the Sultan of Damascus.
13. Francis resuscitates a child.
14. Francis helps three thieves who later become religious.
15. Francis shows one of his wounds to Pope Gregory IX who would not believe that Francis had stigmata.

The side chapels have richly carved, images. The retable of the main altar presents the image of kneeling Francis embraced by Christ Crucified. The large octogonal tabernacle is delicately carved: it is supported by the four Evangelists; it has small doors which are withdrawn when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. The pulpit has a beautiful painting of Francis while preaching to the fish.