Saint Stephen’s Church

Saint Stephen’s Church

Juá [Ilha de Santo Estêvão], Goa, India

Religious Architecture

The current church is the third on the site and dates to 1759; it was built on the community’s own initiative. This is a single-nave church with four square side chapels per side (not chapels or niches in front as usual in Goa) covered by a groin vault with penetrations between lower arches, a ceiling arrangement also unusual in simple parish churches. The chancel has two semicircular shell niches on either side, and the same vault type above as in the nave. Saint Stephen’s is therefore a synthesis between the Goan church type with semicircular niche and penetrated vault and the type with side chapels we see in that of the Pity in Divar, a precedent the community of Jua may have taken as the model to emulate or even surpass. Indeed, Jua is an island neighbouring on Divar. But the notable local Catholics belong to the Chardo and not the Brahmin caste, like those in Divar. The interior elevations articulate the placement of a gallery with arches framed by twisted columns over a lower pilastered composite order. The most interesting difference compared to the arrangement at Saint Anne’s in Talaulim (which the interior elevations of Saint Stephen’s resemble more those of the Pity in Divar, even though they only have two floors) is that the upper gallery is composed of full-length windows supported by verandas placed directly over the chapel arches in the nave and the niches in the chancel. Saint Stephen’s is distinct from all previous churches on the Islands mainly due to its front façade with false cupola between towers or domed [cupoliforme] façade, as José Pereira designated the type. It consists of an ashlar panel between the towers, whose front-facing relief composition represents a drum, cupola and skylight. Saint Alex’s of Calangute in Bardez, built from 1741 to 1765, is usually labelled the first church with a domed façade. The new façade type, without any known precedents elsewhere in the world, must have been built first in Jua and then used in Calangute toward the end of the ongoing work on Saint Alex’s, whose façade only began to be built in 1765. This is indicated by the pioneering nature of the Islands’ architecture, a constant in Goa’s history, and the fact that Saint Stephen’s Church is much richer than Saint Alex’s (to start with, it is vaulted). The domed façade is an original creation of Goan architects evidently inspired by the Italianate church of the Theatines in Old Goa, whose façade was completed in the late 1670s. With the aim of inventing a façade type distinct from Portuguese tradition, Goa’s 18th century architects arrived at a solution in the style of theatre scenography, in other words, for viewing by those placed axially vis-à-vis the object. This was a problem that Italian (and generally European) architecture was seldom able to resolve in threedimensional space: how to articulate towers and drummed cupola on a single level. Saint Stephen’s of Jua is one of the most spectacularly sited churches in Goa, where impressive locations otherwise abound. This church was built at an isolated end of the island with its façade facing west; a covered cemetery is situated on its southern flank; in front, a courtyard.

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