Church of Our Lady Of Rosary
Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India
The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is located outside the historic precinct of Old Goa and stands on the northwest elevation of Monte Santo overlooking the road linking the onetime capital of the Estado da Índia to Panaji. This church originated with a hermitage which according to Gaspar Correia resulted from a vow made by Afonso de Albuquerque. Upon being informed that Goa had fallen, he promised to build a hermitage to Our Lady of the Rosary on the spot where he happened to be at the time. The hermitage was built by Antão Nogueira de Brito during Albuquerque’s governorship. A generation later the site of Monte Santo boasted a numerous population, mostly of Christianised natives for whom a parish was needed. This was created in 1543 at the same time as that of Our Lady of Light (along with Saint Catharine’s Church, these comprised the three parishes of Old Goa, by that time already capital of the Estado da Índia). Construction of a new church was made possible by the donation of properties on Monte Santo by Pedro de Faria, former governor of Malacca, who had acquired them in 1526. Although the exact date is not known, the building work must have begun around 1543. Information about its construction is not clear, although a 1774 document indicates that officials came from the kingdom. In a 1548 letter to the king of Portugal, the members of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary seemed to indicate that the church we know resulted from enlargement of the original hermitage: “they determined to add the body of the house and chapels [...] of which the large chapel of the high altar is already done; all the rest is still to be done [...]”. But in a letter the following year the confraternity informs the king that an entirely new construction was built: due to the need for a bigger structure “all of said house was demolished and we have done another new one which is present[...]”. The monarch is also informed that the chapel (chancel?) is finished and that the church’s body was built up to the wooden framework (of the roof), and also that the church had a “very strong” tower over the main gate. Our Lady of the Rosary is a single-naved church with a chancel and two side chapels in front of and next to the apse, but with arches opening to the nave at different heights. The nave now has an open tile roof, though it originally had a ceiling which fell in 1897, damaging the chapels’ vaults, as can be read in a document kept in the Palace of the Archbishops of Old Goa. The side chapels and chancel are covered by starform rib vaults. Outside, the three-storey tower-façade stands out, with cylindrical buttresses in the front corners and likewise cylindrical towers on the corners with the nave. The south tower contains a winding staircase that accesses the high choir on the upper floor of the tower-façade, while the north tower encloses the baptismal chapel on its ground level. The top floor of the tower-façade is marked on the corners by slender columns and has round-arched window bays in which bells are hung. Also of Manueline nature are the large twisted ropes wrapped cornice-like around the tower-façade, abutments and cylindrical towers. This building is rather large for an outlying parish church, at least with respect to the opening arches and vaults of the side chapels and the chancel– a careful configuration. Yet even though the construction certainly lasted no more than a decade, Our Lady of the Rosary is not a stylistically homogeneous church. Both the narthex (on the ground floor of the tower-façade, open to the outside via round arches) and the north wall of the church’s body contain very similar entryways in Renaissance forms, comparable to the main door of the Church of Our Lady of Grace in Évora. The retables of the chancel altars and the nave also reveal a classical language. The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is the oldest still standing religious building in Old Goa. It is also the only one of all the religious constructions in the old city or even the territory of Goa with (mostly) medieval forms. Beyond the chapels’ arches and vaults inside, the tower-façade makes Our Lady of the Rosary a medieval type, like other known examples such as the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Elvas, Portugal, and nearby Parish Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Olivença, as well as the now disappeared Saint Catharine’s in Old Goa and the ruined Saint Joseph’s of Vasai, and also the parish church of Pedrógão Grande, Portugal, which contains architectural features of openly Renaissance configuration. In the Goan church the cylindrical side towers and abutments approximate to the religious architecture of Portugal’s Alentejo region, specifically the Hermitage of Saint Sebastian in Alvito, the Chapel of Saint Blaise in Évora and the aforementioned parish church in Elvas. Our Lady of the Rosary is the last witness of the initial Christianisation phase in Old Goa, and possibly only survived because it was outside the city, far from the places more subject to renovation during Old Goa’s short historic time as capital of the Estado da Índia. All the other more or less contemporary buildings – parish and convent churches and chapels – either disappeared or were later altered. Our Lady of the Rosary is perhaps the most Portuguese of Goa’s churches, not due to the formal characteristics corresponding to Manueline architectural culture, but because it was conceived during a time before the appearance of specifically Goan architectural solutions, despite the Portuguese or even European root influences of the latter (> Saint Paul’s Church in Goa). It is also an illustrative example of investment in religious architecture in the second generation after the city’s conquest. Our Lady of the Rosary is also the only building in Goa that still attests to the gradual introduction of Renaissance forms in India, here still limited to the sculptural configuration of especially notable architectural features such as the doorways. For its age and the singular period to which it bears witness, this church is certainly one of the most precious architectural objects in the context of Portuguese expansion.