Convent Of Saint Francis And Church Of The Holy Spirit
Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India
The former Convent of Saint Francis and respective Church of the Holy Spirit (often, though mistakenly, called Saint Francis’s) in Old Goa comprise the mother house of the Order of Saint Francis in the Orient, the oldest monastic structure founded under Portuguese dominion in Old Goa. The complex attests to the importance of this order, which from the 16th century on shared with the Jesuits and Dominicans the territory of Goa for Christian missionary efforts. Construction work began in 1520, a decade after the first Franciscans arrived (1510) in what was to become the future Portuguese capital in the Orient. The Franciscan Friar António do Louro (or Padrão) was responsible for the building initiative. According to Friar Paulo da Trindade, officials came from the kingdom in 1518 to oversee the construction, which was financed by the royal treasury. Although the plan’s author is not known, circumstances suggest that it may have been designed in Portugal. Documents published by António Silva Rego provide us with some of the names masters who worked on this project in Old Goa: Leonardo Vaz, master of royal construction projects in India from 1525 to 1527, along with João de la Ponte and the masons João Fernandes and Bastiam (Sebastião) Pires. The construction work lasted at least through the 1520s. The time it was built and the mention of “boratéus” [botaréus – flying buttresses] on a 1527 receipt suggest a Gothic or more likely Manueline construction. Perhaps because it was the first in Old Goa, the Franciscan convent was the most centrally-placed religious house in the vanished city. It stands on the main hill overlooking the Mandovi River, next door to the Palace of the Archbishops and very close to the Sé Cathedral (initially the city’s only parish church), though also close to the first Palace of the Viceroys, before the latter moved to the Palace of the Fortress (1554). In 1661 the church underwent far-reaching modifications, with only the Manueline main door remaining visible from the original structure. Even though the sources refer to the church’s demolition and its total reconstruction, there are strong signs (besides the door) that the current building largely coincides with the original structure: the church’s narthex with its square plan, considered by José Manuel Fernandes to be too deep for such purpose and thus identified as a vestige of a Manueline atrium; the dimensions of the side chapels of the 1520 church, mentioned in a letter from Friar António do Louro, coinciding with those of the current 17th century chapels; the existence of gravestones from well before 1661 (the oldest is dated 1529) in the nave’s floor; and the location of the only bell tower next to the sacristy – characteristic of 15th and 16th century religious architecture, replaced in the 16th century by the two-towered façade influenced by the Church of Our Lady of Grace, to which the two false octagonal towers on the Holy Spirit’s façade otherwise make reference. Something similar probably occurred with the cloister, which was rebuilt in 1707 (the upper gallery was apparently not finished) but presents a door with Manueline lintel in its east wall. If this hypothesis is confirmed, the current convent, at least with respect to its plan, would be more of a 16th century than a 17th century building. If the original church coincides in spatial arrangement with the current house of worship, this means that in the first half of the 16th century a religious space existed in Goa that was influenced by Saint Francis’s in Évora, which was the ancestral model of the single-naved churches that became widespread from the end of that century onward. Saint Francis’s Convent nowadays functions as headquarters and museum of the Archaeological Survey of India in Old Goa. Noteworthy are the Gallery of the Viceroys on the first floor of the east wing, where portraits of the governors and viceroys of India are exhibited (after Goa was annexed they were moved here from the Governor’s Palace in Panaji), and the open-air exhibition of stonework in front of the convent, with architectural vestiges from the ruins of Old Goa. A comparison of the current building to Pombaline reconstruction plans from the 1770s shows that Saint Francis’s Convent still preserves most of its 18th century volumes. The main wing of the two-storey convent is arranged in an east-west direction like the church, which stands next to the east side of this long westfacing wing. The main cloister develops from this wing, to the church’s north. The ground floor gallery, with round arches articulated by Tuscan pilasters, is a common cloister gallery type in Goa, of Albertian influence (> Church and Professed House of Bom Jesus). Another wing also extends to the north side, adjacent to the Palace of the Archbishops to the west. Yet another wing once stretched westward from the far northern end of this wing, following a road once located at the foot of the hill. The Holy Spirit Church has only one nave (the main space with the biggest dimensions), onto which open three pairs of side chapels topped by tribunes, arms of a false transept as at Saint Francis’s in Évora, and the chancel, somewhat narrower than the nave. All the church’s space is covered by coffered groin vaults, with windows in the side walls as well as in the façade at thesame level. The high altar’s retable is configured according to a triumphal arch motif of Serlian influence; the arch properly speaking is voided through and open to the inner chamber [camarim] – a typological feature introduced in Goa via the high altar of the church at the Augustinian Convent of Our Lady of Grace. The paintings on canvas in the chancel, the colour arrangement of the articulating elements inside the church, the chapels at the corner of the false transept’s arms and the chancel, the pulpit and high choir’s gilt carved stalls all accentuate the monumental nature of this exuberant religious space. The church, as public space of the old Saint Francis’s Convent, reveals the decisive role the Franciscans’ played in the Christian missionary effort in Goa. The investment in its decorative richness is surprising, given that the current church was built at a time when the Estado da Índia was openly imploding. It may, however, represent a demonstration of the vitality of the Franciscans’ presence in Goa by means of one of the most artistically eloquent churches in the old capital of the Portuguese State of India.