Saligao Church – An Architectural Surprise
Descriptions of this church vary. It has been called, ‘a castle out of a fairy tale’ or to the more culinarily inclined ‘a pretty wedding cake’. Undoubtedly, this unusual and sole example of Neo-gothic architecture in Goa makes an impression. Its bright, white exterior and sharp spires each topped off with a cross, make for an arresting sight enroute to Calangute from Panjim on Chogm Road.
Architecture in Goa is truly multi-cultural, a layering of different sensibilities – imported designs were brought alive by local masons and craftsmen influenced by the ideas of their age. Syncretism is evident in both the churches and temples of Goa. The story behind Saligao church is also one of the communidade of Saligao coming together to build a place of worship for its unserved parishioners. Lacking a church nearby, residents sought the support of the Archbishop of Goa to build their own place of worship.
Officially known as the Church of Madre de Deus (Mother of God), it took seven years to build Saligao church. Stones for its walls were sourced with great difficulty from the ruins of the Friary at Daujim village, and the Chapel of Boa Vitoria. Completed in 1873, its claim to fame and reverence is a 400-year old statue of the Madre de Deus. This gold-painted wooden statue, the work of Goan carpenters and engravers, was once the prized possession of the first Franciscan Friary built in 1569 at Daujim village. The Friary was eventually dedicated to Madre de Deus. In 1835, religious houses fell out of favour with the Portuguese government; their properties and orders were seized and banned. As a result, the church and convent at Daujim lay in ruins. Neighbouring villages still protested when Saligaonkars sought permission to have the statue housed in their new church. This dramatic tussle was resolved by a Government Order later approved by the King of Portugal. Goans like to think that the long-deserted village of Daujim lives on through this statue. The church also holds a second statue from Daujim of the Mother of God made of black stone. Six other altars are dedicated to Christ the Redeemer, St Francis Xavier, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Assumption and Our Lady of Piety. Other sacred relics including a Blessed Sacrament draw worshippers in.
On the first Sunday of May, the Catholic community celebrates the feast of Our Lady after a nine-day novena. The celebration includes a grand procession, fireworks, music, plays and dances. Visitors are welcome to see the gilded interiors of the church in the morning between 9-12am or in the afternoon from 3-5pm between mass and other services. After sunset, the structure is illuminated, inspiring passersby to stop and take pictures.
Should you want to get a glimpse of life in a typical Goan village, Saligao is small enough for one to wander around. Originally a farming community, once filled with sugar plantations, it also has a history of outward migration towards Portugal, East Africa and Karachi that affected its economic and cultural identity. Curiously, the little village has served as a muse for some of India’s most well-known artists. Stills of Saligao’s picturesque beauty can be found in the paintings of F.N. Souza. One is likely to find his odes to Saligao hanging in the living room of a multi-millionaire’s home in London. Acclaimed photographer Dayanita Singh came to Saligao from Delhi 22 years ago and never left. The lives of its inhabitants feature prominently in her black and white portraits. The Saligao Institute, a community centre of the village hosts a weekly market on Tuesdays called ‘Made in Saligao’ where locals bring their creations and produce. Find out more about this village that punches well above its weight through our guided tour – Saligao Village Saunter.