The Holy Wars

We are now back online, so here’s the news from a few days ago.

Goa, India. Goa was once the seat of power in this part of India. It was heavily saturated with Catholic missionaries including the Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit orders.

For those familiar with the politics and stature of these powerful religious communities, you might rightfully suspect that having them all competing for souls in a relatively compact space might not end well. You would be right.

In what today is Old Goa, there are no inhabitants, but lots of churches and religious houses. In the early 19th century, the Portuguese had a general backlash against the power and wealth of the Catholic Church and did their own reformation. The town of Goa was also suffering from the nearby river silting up, so the whole government operation and its inhabitants moved to nearby Panaji, the seat of government now of the state of Goa, and where we are actually staying.

However, old Goa remains a vibrant tourist and pilgrim destination for several reasons. All of India was fertile ground for those 16th century missionaries. Combine that with the Inquisition, and you understand why 20% of Goa is currently Catholic.

The major edifice in Old Goa is the Basilica de Bom Jesus, which was consecrated in 1605 and houses the remains of Goa’s patron saint, Francis Xavier. He died in 1552 in China, but his incorruptible body (meaning it had not decayed) was returned to Goa a year later. He personally converted nearly 30,000 people, so he was one very busy Jesuit. His relics are always on the display, but every ten years, his full remains are shown, inciting a huge wave of religious fervor among the faithful. (Nothing like not decaying to have one declared a saint.)

The Basilica itself is a wonderful Baroque confection. Marble was not available here, so the altar and pulpit etc. are made of wood which has been gilded. A very impressive effect.

Across the road is the competition, the Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina. St. Catherine is the patron saint of this massive church, intended by the Portuguese of the 16th century to be the largest in Asia. There are fifteen altars, and the baptistry was used by St. Francis. Xavier There is also a small church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi on the grounds, and it’s hard to tell where one group began and the other ended.

Suffice it to say, this was a highly populated community of Catholic missionaries, who brought extraordinary passion and energy to their work – till the Portuguese authorities had had enough with the imbalance of power.

On a more material note, we went shopping today for new slacks for Don, and a new belt. He melted away a bit last week, after a fall spent working hard at his exercise regime, and he now has two new pairs of pants that don’t look like they are falling off of him. They are being shortened by our local tailor, just around the corner, and we are looking for an abandoned lot to built a funeral pyre for the old ones.

By the way, the leaving ceremony at our SwaSwarma retreat was quite something. Everyone from the manager to the chef, to the doctor and the therapist, along with the dining room staff came out to wish us well. I was content to just take the pictures, but these people are amazing and made us feel so special for our week there. Even though we had a four-hour drive ahead of us, the glow lingered on.




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