Church And Professed House Of Bom Jesus
Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India
The church and former professed house of Bom Jesus [Good Jesus] in Old Goa comprise an architectural complex built by the Society of Jesus between 1586 and the mid-17th century. Historic plans and views enable us to situate the building on the exterior side of the road ringing the centre of the vanished city, probably corresponding to the walls from the Muslim period.
The church and professed house originally marked the east and south sides of the square called Terreiro dos Galos where the ring road broadened. The church and professed house were built at different times and under distinct circumstances. The initiative to raise a new building for the professed house in 1586 is owed to the then provincial, the Italian Alessandro Valignano, who claimed to be the author of the plan he said was based on a building design (which he did not identify) supplied by the kingdom’s chief engineer, the also Italian Giovanni Battista Cairato. But it is also quite likely that the Society’s architect in Goa, Domingues Fernandes, also participated.
The professed house is the only building in Old Goa for which an original plan remains. This is due to the requirement by the Society of Jesus that a copy should be sent to Rome for approval (the originals are now found in the National Library of France). The plans sent by Valignano in 1586 to Rome consist of a very schematic representation of what was effectively built, with some modifications. Two of the four originally envisaged wings are still standing; they bounded a central patio. Each has three floors containing cells on the outside and an interior corridor which runs to the outside wall of the perpendicular wing, generating a large opening.
On the ground floor plan for the professed house, Valignano drew the church’s site placement, whose caption is significant: “Place for the church, which until now we have not determined whether it should have only one nave or three naves, though there is space for all”. This means that in the late 16th century the Society’s preference for single-naved churches was not a given, at least in Goa. Rome’s reaction also shows that the evaluation of the architectural plan by the Society’s master builders focused only on the size and arrangement of the professed house, ignoring the matter of the spatial arrangement in the church itself.
We do not know the specific reasons why a singlenaved church was eventually chosen, except that it was then the current practice in Portugal and the rest of Europe, and had been at least since the 1560s. The church in Old Goa was begun in 1594, when the Jesuits once again had a source of financing due to an unexpected legacy from Jerónimo de Mascarenhas. Valignano was absent in Macau and not involved in the process. The church was consecrated in 1605 by Archbishop Friar Aleixo de Meneses, before the construction work was complete. The option was for a church without side chapels, but with two large compartments on either side of the chancel instead of the arms of a transept. All the spaces are rectangular and joined to the nave via rounded arches, thus uniting the whole, large space.
The church has a high choir over pillars and groin vaults; above the nave is a chamfered ceiling with curious wooden beams that replaced the original roof in 1862. The arms of the false transept and the chancel are covered by coffered barrel vaults. Both inside and outside the church is marked by an arrangement of pilasters and entablatures in a modular grille, as typical in Goa’s religious (and civil) architecture. The three large buttresses on the church’s north wall date to 1862 and show how the architectural forms and construction technologies of European origin were not suited to the monsoon climate. Here the uninterrupted rainfall weakened the unprotected laterite ashlars on the outside walls, whose eavless roofs are hidden behind the balustrades at their edges. Huge buttresses were the most common solution used in Goa to shore up constructions raised by European master builders.
The façade, whose plan was only determined in 1597, has three complete levels divided by pilasters, and an additional panel with a bas-relief framing the letters IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator – the Latin expression adopted by the Jesuits as Iesus Habemus Socium). Recognisable are influences from Italy (especially in the ground floor doors), France (in the rectangular upper-floor windows) and Flanders (in the circular windows inside voluted frame devices on the top floor). Although researchers unanimously agree that the church was built according to a plan by Domingos Fernandes (who nevertheless seems not to have comprehensive training, rather acquiring construction experience after arriving in Goa in 1578), the façade may have another designer, owing to the arrangement’s complexity and density, singular in the panorama of Goan (and Portuguese) period architecture.
On the south side of the church is an adjacent patio, architecturally comparable to a cloister, which presumably dates to the same period. It may be the oldest example of such patios/cloisters, common in Goa’s Christian religious architecture, which are marked by two-storey galleries with round arches articulated by Tuscan pilasters, indicating an Albertian influence modelled on the arcades of the Roman Coliseum or the Theatre of Marcellus. This is a rectangular patio in which the galleries on the smaller sides have six arches, while those on the larger sides have eight. The current sacristy on the south side of the chancel was begun in 1652 to replace a previous sacristy demolished a few weeks before construction work began. The new sacristy was dedicated in 1654.
In 1659 the arms of the false transept were enlarged by one more section. The north arm initially functioned as a chapel dedicated to Saint Francis Borgia. It housed the body of Francis Xavier when it was brought over from Saint Paul’s in 1624 until 1659, when it was moved to the enlargement of the south arm, where it rests to this day under a sepulchre offered in 1698 by Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany. In 1659 the Blessed Sacrament was moved from this space to the north arm. The dependencies that interconnect with the church, as well as the monumental two-flight staircase, were built at that time.
The importance of the Bom Jesus Church goes well beyond the Goan cultural context. Historically it was the second large Jesuit church in Goa (but the first inside the old city precinct). It was the church of the professed house, the main residence of the Jesuits and the centre of the Society’s missionary action in the Orient. From the architectural standpoint, this building introduced into India the Portuguese Jesuit church type, with only one nave with adjacent rectangular spaces in the style of Saint Francis’s of Évora, which would be the model for the Goan church in the next two centuries. Despite the lack of side chapels this follows the same architectural type, characterised by the way the spaces are articulated and not the existence (or not) of certain spatial features. The possibility that this type may have already been represented in Goa via the first church of the Franciscan convent does not deny its inaugural role at a time when adhesion to the single nave architectural type became definitive in Goa.
The Church of Bom Jesus was raised to minor basilica status in 1946.