Cemeteries

Cemeteries

Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India

Equipment and Infrastructures

We do not know if there are Catholic cemeteries like Goa's in other parts of the world. Indeed, in Goa they are still a common sight: cemeteries covered by roofs with two large surfaces, arranged like churches with three long low naves separated by pillars and with the funerary chapel at the end as if it were the chancel; the front comprises a façade of coated and whitewashed stone ashlars, as if it were a real church façade. Over time cemeteries have grown beyond the covered area, with many graves in adjacent terrain. The space is generally enclosed by a perimeter wall, sometimes marked by pilasters and corner pillars topped by pinnacles. Such cemeteries appeared in the 19th century, probably in the 1840s and 1850s. Until then burials took place in the churches or their forecourts. In 1927, Braz Fernandes, a Norteiro [from Portugal's former exclaves on India's northwest coast], used the expression “in the style of old Portuguese cemeteries” to refer to industrial structures of the same architectural type. The first royal orders from the government of Portuguese India to end the practice of in-church burial apparently date to 1783. However, Casimir Cristovão de Nazaré indicated in his Mitras Lusitanas do Oriente [Lusitanian Mitres of the Orient] that Archbishop Friar Manuel de Santa Catarina (1780-1812) issued an episcopal decree ordering the establishment of cemeteries only on 14 January 1801. Several decades would still go by before the first covered cemeteries appeared. The so-called Old Cemetery of Assolna in Salcette, one of the few dated with certainty, was done in 1844. But the first graves in the other cemeteries generally date to the 1890s; up to that time burials continued to take place in churches, as some surveys of funerary inscriptions attest. The Old Cemetery of Assolna is one of the most noteworthy in Goa. It has three naves separated by square pillars and covered by a single roof with large overhangs. The sides are open arcades. The front was designed to resemble a small church: a section with the entrance flanked by two towers, between which is the complex counter-curving pediment with volutes. The side naves correspond to the lower parts of the pyramid¬shaped façade. The cemetery is on the north side of Assolna's main square, on the church's east flank and nowadays much altered by the road and other interventions. Cemeteries frequently played an important role in composition of the complex formed by the church, parish buildings, cross and priest's house. Sometimes the cemetery's axial position opposite the church was quite notable, as in Assagao, Santa Cruz and Loutolim. The cemeteries were probably covered due to the monsoon climate, especially the torrential downpours brought on by the southwest monsoon from June to October. Graves in open ground thus had to be protected and this was probably done in church form as a way to reaffirm the principle of burials in holy ground. Cemeteries are also frequently found without their former roofs, with only the perimeter wall and chapel at the back remaining. The circumstances in which this happened also explain the end of covered cemeteries in Goa, as shown in the cases described below. In 1897, Major Fernando Leal, the official charged by the Goa government to produce a report on development in various Salcette counties, among them Assolna, requested that the cemetery be dismantled due to its location in the centre of the village, next to the road and church and particularly for health reasons. He called for the existence of “a simple walled precinct', roofless but with a chapel at the back if the people so desired. All this would be “prettier and even more religious - a burial ground under the sky, planted with flowers, bathed by the sun day and night, under [...] the firmament adorned by shining stars' Next, in a more sombre tone clearly influenced by oriental imagery, Major Leal describes the covered cemetery as a “terrible caravanserai of the dead, inhabited only by owls, bats and spiders'! In Assolna such intentions were not followed by action. But in Benaulim, also in Salcette, the covered cemetery was demolished four decades later, in 1937. In October of that year the Salcette health officer visited the cemetery which had been deemed too small since 1914 (it had 293 graves). He described it as “a true damp and fetid basement, with a nauseating and pestilential stench. Horrible!” The cemetery was demolished and replaced by an open one, which is what we see nowadays; only the existing façade must have survived that official's desire for fresh air and light. In such circumstances, one may conclude that it is unlikely that any more covered cemeteries were built in Goa after the early 20th century, and that many were demolished: the cycle which gave rise to such curious and sometimes notable complexes in the end lasted less than half a century.

Loading…