Saint Anne's Church

Saint Anne's Church

Talaulim, Goa, India

Religious Architecture

Saint Anne’s Church in Talaulim is one of the most important monuments in Goa, India and wherever Portuguese is or was ever spoken. It began as a Jesuit foundation in 1577, the church of a recreational estate for pensioners from Saint Paul’s College in Old Goa. But it was completely rebuilt from 1682 to 1689 under the supervision of the Goa native Father Francisco do Rego (1638-89). It is perhaps the first church in the history of architecture that can be described as Goan. The fact that it served as a recreational site for novices explains the rather uncommon dimensions as well as the landscape setting the builders sought to extract from the isolation. The façade thus faces eastward overlooking a vast area of tilled floodplain and river waters. Until about a half-century ago the ruins of a large village existed south of the church, with many imposing houses, where nowadays there is only a small hamlet. The royal road from Old Goa to Agassaim passed through on its way to the passage point leading to Salcette. Architecturally, Saint Anne’s is a key moment in the evolution of Catholic sacred architecture in Goa from the late 16th century on and a new and original synthesis. In the building we find the semicircular niches of Jesuit architecture, the type of main façade with towers from the Augustinians’ church in Old Goa and the new system of vaults introduced in Old Goa in the 1650s by the Jesuits, Theatines and Franciscans – a completely new system of parietal composition and conception of mouldings and ornament. The church has a single nave and five sections interrupted by a transept. The chancel has three sections. It is covered by barrel vaults with side penetrations between arches, of the type found at the Jesuit church in Margao, and decorated with plaster coffers. The crossing has a groin vault and the sanctuary a barrel vault with penetrations, but without dividing arches. The nave walls are divided into three levels. The lower one has semicircular shell niches (which also exist in the chancel). Above these niches is a gallery with inward – turning bay windows – a typical Jesuit theme that the Society may have used in Goan churches that have meanwhile disappeared (we see the theme in Diu, but it does not exist in any surviving ones that predate Saint Anne’s) and which the architect may have seen in the Theatine and Franciscan churches in Old Goa. Above this triforium is a second gallery, unprecedented in Goa, which links the windows between the vault penetrations. Saint Anne’s walls are therefore excavated by two overlying galleries with views to inside and outside, authentic overlooks with views out to the rice paddies, coconut groves and surrounding hills. The chancel and the niches, vaults and elevations, including the main exterior, are articulated and ornamented by architectural and decorative themes never before used in such a systematic fashion. The order of interior pilasters presents a nervous rhythm joining the niches, which are much narrower than the ones we see in Margao or Diu, with much more expressive mouldings. The surfaces are completely filled by double-shafted pilasters topped by large florid capitals. In the intermediate order between the niches and top gallery the architect seemed to compress the lower order: it again presents a system of composite-Ionic pillars with double shaft to separate the openings, though now with proportions foreign to European architectural tradition. The openings are in tabernacle form, with pairs of pseudo-Solomonic columns that frame pediment-covered arches – a sort of free citation of architectural fragments. The church’s main façade refers directly to the prestigious model of the Augustiniuan’s Our Lady of Grace, but becomes much more complex in its ornamental articulation: the pilasters appear doubled and compressed, the shafts are now fluted, the surfaces are endowed with chakra-type adornment like at Bom Jesus, but multiplied; the crown motifs overlie each other. The evident strangeness of these themes has led many observers to conclude that it is not a European church. Francisco do Rego studied theology in Portugal (we don’t know exactly where) and returned to Goa in around 1675 to become parish priest of Saint Blaise’s on the Islands. In 1682 he was given charge of Saint Anne’s church in unclear circumstances, because Saint Anne’s belonged to the Jesuits and only became an autonomous parish in 1695. Rego was a Brahmin and an active man of letters. He wrote the Tratado Apologético contra varias Calumnias impostas pela malevolência contra a sua nação Bracmana [Apologetic Treatise against various Calumnies imposed by malevolence against the Brahminnation], which remained in manuscript. According to Barbosa Machado, he was also an accomplished poet in Portuguese and Latin. He had lived in Lisbon in the 1670s and obviously belonged to the literary academies in the kingdom’s capital, thereby becoming familiar with the artistic and cultural atmosphere known as the transition to baroque. He would have learned of new trends in the design of gilt carving work with twisted columns, large capitals, capricious corbels and volutes, tiles with plant motifs on the borders, sculpted and inlaid marble. But this was not exactly what he did at Saint Anne’s in Talaulim, because he was somewhere else, confronted with another culture, other materials, another climate and other artifices, and he himself surely sought something else. What he did cannot be understood without bearing this in mind. Nor can Saint Anne’s be understood without recalling that Francisco do Rego was a native of Goa, an articulate defender of the merits of his caste at a time when the Goan clergy of the Brahmin and Chardo castes were gradually beginning to take their own cultural destiny into account. Saint Anne’s Church in Talaulim probably results from the need to affirm the clergy of Goan origin and their parishioners, i.e. a Goan Catholic culture.

Paulo Varela Gomes