Saint Catharine's Chapel
Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India
Saint Catharine’s Chapel was built next to the gate in Muslim Goa’s wall where in 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque’s troops entered the city. The chapel was also close to the site of the no longer existent Royal Hospital built north of Saint Francis’s Convent. Originally a modest rammed-earth construction with a tile roof, it was ordered to be rebuilt in 1550 by Governor Jorge Cabral. This information is confirmed by an engraved stone on the chapel’s east wall: “HERE IN THIS PLACE WAS THE GATE THROUGH WHICH GOVERNOR A. DALBUQUERQUE ENTERED AND TOOK THIS CITY FROM THE MOORS ON SainT CATHARINE’S DAY IN THE YEAR 1510 IN WHOSE PRAISE AND MEMORY GOVERNOR JORGE CABRAL ORDERED THIS HOUSE BUILT IN 1550 AT THE COST OF H.M.” In 1607 the chapel was again renovated, resulting in the building which the photographers D’Souza and Paul recorded and which we know from a postcard. The usual grille arrangement on Goan church façades, with classically well-defined pilasters and entablatures, was evident here and exemplarily simplified and adjusted to the chapel’s scale. Of the five sections usual in churches with façade towers, here only three existed, although the minor pilasters of the central window arrangement introduced some ambiguity in the structure. Only the façade’s axial walls had openings (entryway on the ground floor, window on the upper floor), as did the top floors of the towers. Saint Catharine’s Chapel was the first building subject to intervention by the architect Baltasar de Castro in a mega-operation to clean up and restore the old city ahead of the exposition of Saint Francis Xavier’s body in 1952. If we believe the description by Francisco Xavier Costa, Baltasar de Castro, a high official of the Directorate-General of National Monuments and Buildings, proceeded in the usual manner of that public institution and little of the chapel’s historic substance remained untouched. The chancel’s vault and south wall, west veranda and staircase, as well as the sacristy, were disassembled and rebuilt with the original materials. Also according to Francisco Xavier Costa, the wall of the chapel’s body on the Gospel side was taken down, except for a section around the Muslim wall’s gate where Albuquerque’s troops entered. The façade was also altered and, most seriously, the entablature between its two exterior levels was destroyed. The two orders of pilasters are nowadays superimposed by means of absurd sections of entablature between them. This shows disrespect for the classical rules, something that never existed in the composition of the architectural arrangements of Goan churches. Moreover, this situation simulates a colossal order, something never seen on the façades of religious buildings from the 16th and early 17th centuries. This façade’s affiliation with the façade-type of Goan churches is thus no longer evident. All this restoration work had a major impact on this building as a historical document, in the same way as interventions by the Directorate-General of National Monuments and Buildings that affected countless monuments in Portugal. Regardless of this situation, Saint Catharine’s Chapel, along with the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, illustrates the first mode of Christianisation applied in Goan territory (but unlike the latter church, later reconstructions of the forementioned chapels did not change their votive nature, as they were not enlarged for other functions, such as to serve as parish churches). This mode consisted of marking territory by means of votive chapels, in thanks for what were considered divine graces granted in the territory’s conquest. Their locations are therefore always symbolic, linked to the act of conquest or to a vow. History associates the founding or commitment to build these three religious buildings to the conqueror of Goa, Afonso de Albuquerque. The territory’s religious occupation by means of buildings happened even before the territory was organised into a hierarchy of dioceses and parishes.