Jesuit Complex: Church of Our Lady of the Snows, Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Seminary

Jesuit Complex: Church of Our Lady of the Snows, Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Seminary

Rachol, Goa, India

Religious Architecture

The fortified perimeter of Rachol is one of the largest European fortified complexes in early modern Asia, though little of it has survived: two churches, the seminary, various scattered and unrecognised curtain wall sections, indistinct ruins of the large fortification that surrounded the Church of Our Lady of the Snows and a monumental gate situated near the seminary, dating to the early 17th century. The first known depiction of the perimeter and its buildings is by Pedro Barreto Resende in the report by António Bocarro from around 1635. Regarding religious architecture that drawing shows what we still see at the site. To the east stands the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, “mother church of all Salcette as it was the first”, as Father Francisco de Sousa wrote, embraced by the walls of the fort and the palatial and fortified house that probably belonged to Rachol’s captain. At the other end of the perimeter to the west is the old Jesuit college (now a seminary), overlooking a hill and the wall’s main entrance. In the middle stands Saint Anthony’s Chapel. Father Sousa indicates that the Church of Our Lady of the Snows located outside the fortress “but next to it” was founded in 1576 by the Jesuits. It was the first one in Salcette, erected at a time still marked by uncertainties and required the protection of a fortress. Since 1566 the Society had maintained a small chapel in a house within the walls. The 1576 church was built of rammed earth. The whitewashed stone church was put up between 1584 and 1596 and is roughly the one still standing today: a small church with single large low nave with tile roof, barrel-vaulted chancel and façade of an original type (though the crown was altered at a later date) with three sections and two orders, and a single attached tower on the north side, pertaining to a probably later third order. The tower protects a gallery that connects the parish buildings. On the south side a lateral section protects another gallery. The complex is splendid when seen from west to east isolated against the forested hill that hides the fort’s ruins. In front is the yard with standing cross and the vast alluvial plain; in the background the bare elevations of the mainland, the old enemy territory on the other side of the Zuari, which in this border area passes behind the church and the old fort. The Rachol College, now the Patriarchal Seminary, is located at the other end of the perimeter, where it was protected by a wall of stone and not rammed earth, as indicated in the drawing by Pedro Barreto Resende attached to the report by António Bocarro. It shows the respective position of the church and the College’s other buildings as they remain today – the church with its southeast facing façade, reached up the hillside by a front staircase, now a garden, and the College stretching northward around a large patio just like it does today. According to Father Francisco de Sousa, the College’s first stone was laid by Father Gaspar Soares in 1606, and the first mass in the church (dedicated to All Saints) took place in 1609; the College was inaugurated in 1610. The viceroy at the time was Friar Aleixo de Menezes, who blessed the various programmes comprising the complex: the church, college, hospital, a seminary for poor children, catechumens’ house and school of doctrine. But the Rachol College’s original church did not survive. The information, albeit uncertain, indicates that it was replaced by a construction between 1622 and 1640, which we presume results from effects of the 1622 canonisation of Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to whom the new church was specifically dedicated. The design of the church’s elevations is characteristic of Old Goa period monumental architecture, such as the Sé Cathedral. This is a single nave church with a tile roof and barrel-vaulted coffer-adorned chancel, with high choir over the entrance sustained by a magnificent depressed arch. The front façade is broad and low, like a reclining rectangle. The two towers framing the three central sections are below the pediment level. The church stands on top of a hill and can be seen from a long way off by those coming from Margao. It is actually the first thing the traveller sees on approaching Rachol. In the past it certainly stood out above the walled perimeter. It is therefore no wonder that the architect made the west elevation as refined as the front, or that the church’s entire exterior is plastered and whitewashed. The lower level has windows with straight pediments; above, the windows with mouldings are simpler, articulated by overlying orders of absolutely canonical pilasters though set out with the most rigorous simplicity – a minimal classicism that is worthy of note. The interior is articulated by an identical system, except in the apse where, besides the triumphal arch, chancel wall lining, altars and retable, we can see one of the most spectacular sets of Indo-Portuguese carving work existing in Asia. A wing of the Rachol Seminary housed from 1994 to 2001 a sacred art museum organised by the Caloust Gulbenkian Foundation. That collection is now exhibited at Saint Monica’s Convent in Old Goa (Museum of Christian Art).

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