Holy Cross Church

Holy Cross Church

Verna, Goa, India

Religious Architecture

The Verna region is located in the transition from the areas of Mormugao to the north and Salcette to the south, along the main north-south road across all of Goa’s territory. Geographically it is characterised by tilled floodplains, forest and palm groves. Verna became an important town due to its strategic location, reinforced by the existence of the railway station. The Verna church that still stands is the third on this site; it was inaugurated by the Jesuits in 1612. It is an especially interesting building from the standpoint of Catholic religious architecture in Goa because it has exceptionally survived alongside its entire built complex. The church’s façade faces north with a set- back tower on its east front and a rectangular block of the college type on its west flank, joined by a cloister, one of whose galleries runs beside the church. The ‘college’ façade has kept the original height, doors, windows and even the entryway with respective portico. The cloister is also well preserved. The church has a single nave covered by a tile roof, and a barrel-vaulted chapel. The façade is of the Old Goa Bom Jesus type common in Salcette but divided into three orders, which is less common. The church’s location raises an as yet unanswered question. It is situated on a slope, facing north. Either the terrain has radically changed since the 17th century or there was apparently little concern about orienting the façade toward open space as occurs almost system- atically in Goa. On the contrary, the site placement here seems awkward, and is strangely similar to that of the church in Nuvem a half-dozen kilometres to the south. Francisco de Sousa’s chronicle states that Verna’s first church was founded in 1568 on the elevated site of a temple to the goddess Santeri. The church later moved to the site of the Hindu cemetery – traditionally located on high ground. The third church, the one we see today, was built “a hundred paces” from that place. Nowadays there is a Catholic cemetery on the slope above the church, from which it is separated by the road to Margao (as also occurs in Nuvem). This cemetery was created at the time, but occupies the site of the old Hindu cemetery and the 16th century church mid-slope, which would have faced west toward the floodplain.

Paulo Varela Gomes