Church of the Holy Spirit

Church of the Holy Spirit

Madgaon [Margão], Goa, India

Religious Architecture

Jesuit sources describe the process of founding, destroying and rebuilding the Church of the Holy Spirit of Margao, the Society’s most important in Salcette besides the Rachol fortification. The building will have been founded in 1564-65, when the Jesuits were entering and installing themselves in Salcette. In 1571 it suffered partial destruction by fire due to a raid by Bijapuris and their allies who that year ravaged Salcette and other regions of Goa. The same happened in 1579. The church was rebuilt at a slightly different site from 1585-95 and in 1604 it was enlarged, whatever that means, according to a report by the Jesuit Francisco de Sousa, writing in Goa in 1698. That same chronicler provides the only precise information on the subject, stating that in 1645 “the entire old factory was demolished and the church we use today was built in the same place, all vaulted, very clear and pleasant”. According to other sources, this church was only consecrated 30 years later in 1675. Based on the statements by Francisco de Sousa, it has always been written that today’s Church of the Holy Spirit in Margao is the one that was built, or thoroughly rebuilt, between 1645 and 1675. The building is the oldest in which there is a typological theme defining the Goan identity of Goa’s Catholic architecture: the semicircular niches covered by shelled half vaults. We see them in the church, housing windows and doors and articulating the lower order of the nave’s side elevations (this theme is present in another Jesuit church in India, the one of Our Lady of the Conception (or Saint Paul’s) in Diu, which everything indicates was begun in 1601). The articulation of churches’ side elevations by semicircular chapels or niches is a theme from the treatise by Sebastiano Serlio (Book V, published in 1547, plan for a church with three naves). Yet it is extremely rare in European architecture. It appears in one or another Italian church from the turn of the 15th to the 16th century, such as San Pietro in Montorio in Rome. Although published by Serlio, it is completely absent from architecture in Portugal and Brazil: nowhere is a church interior articulated with semicircular niches, though there are (a few) isolated chapels of that type. Nor is it found in Spanish, Flemish or French architecture. But there are many semicircular shell niches in the architecture of retables– particularly in Goa, where many altars in Old Goa can be dated to the turn of the 16th to the 17th century. It is therefore possible that the Jesuits were impressed by the beauty of the shelled half vaults over tabernacle-chapels, with their Marian connotations, along with the board from Serlio’s treatise. But it is hard to believe that this happened in Diu, a faraway and isolated place, before the Jesuits had tried the theme in Goa. One may conjecture that the side elevations of the Jesuits’ mother church in India, Saint Pauls in Old Goa (of which we only know vague descriptions and exterior images) were articulated by semicircular niches or chapels. On the façade, whose central section survived, there are shell niches on both sides of the main window (which in the past naturally housed images of Saint Peter and Saint Paul). It can also be asked whether there were also niches along the naves of the Margao church built from 1585 to 1595 and enlarged in 1604. Indeed, in the late 19th century three tomb inscriptions could be seen in the current church, though now they are hidden by wooden boards. They pertained to Gaunkars [freeholders] from Margao, and were carved in stone from the north and dated 1618, 1620 and 1648, and placed on the ledge of the nave window bays. There are two other tombstones from the same period but without inscription (making a total of five), placed in the ledge of the first two and of a third in the nave niches. All the other tomb inscriptions in the church in the late 19th century (which later disappeared when a new floor was laid) were from the middle of that century, certainly corresponding to a remodelling of the floor. It is possible that in 1645 “all the old factory” was not “demolished”, contrary to what Francisco de Sousa says, and that only a vault was added to the nave which previously had none and that the chancel and transept arm vaults were replaced by new ones. There are countless mouldings in the church, especially in the chapels under the high choir, the transept and the lower floors, and even on the outside, which seem to date from the late 16th century. In any case, the Margao church is absolutely consistent, and one of the most refined churches in Goa. It is a single nave church with transept accentuated in a more discrete plan in the spatial presence in the nave (the south arm is occupied by the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament), covered by five barrel vaults with lateral penetrations between arches, corresponding to the nave’s five sections, as well as groin vaults over the crossing and transept. The chancel has a barrel vault with penetrations. The nave is articulated by a giant order of pilasters with Doric frieze and Ionic architrave. Order and niches present the most refined architectural sculpture in Goa outside the Old City. The west-facing main façade is of the type of the Augustinians’ church of Our Lady of Grace in Old Goa: a central section divided into three orders, framed by two towers with four slightly set-back orders. The façade is later or was redecorated later than the church’s body by someone practiced in making carved retables, as can be perceived by the tighter proportions of the architectural members and the less refined nature of the ornament. The tower crowns comprise drum, cupola and lantern – the oldest tower tops of this type [zimbórios] that have survived to this day in Goa, with much typological success in the churches of Salcette. The prototype can only have been the church of the Augustinians in Old Goa, which almost certainly had towers with zimbórios.

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