One of Goa's important institutions, Goa's famous and magnificent churches are largely a legacy of Portuguese colonization.
Church building was one of the main occupations of the early Portuguese and in fact one of Vasco da Gama's main missions for finding the sea route to India was to "seek Christians and spices".
With a significant population of Goans being Christians for many generations today, the Church is an important factor in Goa's social , cultural and religious life. For example, the contribution of the Church to education in Goa is immense. Today the churches are all part of the Archdiocese of Goa and function with its help, many are also protected sites.
The architecture of Goa's churches has undergone notable changes with the passage of time and the fashion of the era that they were built in.
The church architecture can be broadly broken down to the following periods.
The Early period - From 1510 - 1550 AD
The oldest surviving Church in Goa today is the Church of Our Lady of Rosary on Monte Santo, Old Goa. Built on the site of Alfonso de Albuquerque's hill of Victory soon after he conquered Goa in 1510. The style of Churches during this time period is termed as "Manueline" after King Emmanuel of Portugal.
This style is an amalgamation of Gothic and Renaissance and is a style peculiar to Portugal of that time. The decorative motifs of this style centered on Portuguese dominance of seamanship and included cables and anchors with seashells etc.
This type of construction was largely not suited for Goa's weather and a number of these Churches were subsequently rebuilt or remodeled and only one or two survives to this day. This was the period that saw wide spread destruction of Hindu temples with new Churches constructed on their sites.
Some notable churches of this era include the Church at the Cabo near Panaji and the Church on the Island of Divar off the coast of Old Goa. Most others are in ruins, especially in Old Goa.
The Baroque period - From 1550 - 1660 AD
This period coincides with the Renaissance period in Europe and also coincides with the period of "Golden Goa" and the influx of Missionaries to Goa including St Francis Xavier. Church building during this time reached a fever pitch with styles and plans that are totally European.
The great churches of Old Goa including the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral, and the Church of St Cajetan and the largest of them all, the Augustine Church of Our Lady of Grace, now in ruins, belong to this time period and style.
The other notable churches outside of Old Goa built in this period include the Rachol Seminary, and the then newly rebuilt Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, at Panaji. The architecture of this period being a mixture of Tuscan, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles.
The Indian baroque period - From 1660 - 1760 AD
The churches of this period represent the local contribution to church building in terms of style and design. The most important being the design of the outer facade and the ceiling with inclusion of flowers, tropical motifs etc.
The prominent churches of this period include the Church of St Francis of Assisi at Old Goa, The Church of Holy Spirit at Margao and the Church of St Ana at Talaulim and The Church of Our Lady of Compassion at Divar.
The Rococo period - From 1760 - 1899 AD
The churches of this period are characterized by their rather small size but with an accent on exquisite and ornate finishing on the inside with local motifs and paintings. Another element was the use of Stucco on the exterior facade. The style reflected to a large extent the relaxation of the religious fervor of the Portuguese . This was also the period of the New Conquests. One of the classical examples of this style is the Church of St. Stephen's at San Estevan near Panaji. Others include the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate conception at Moira, the Church of St Alex at Calangute and the Church of Our Lady of Rosary at Margao.
The modern period - From 1900 onwards
This period dates from the early nineteenth century onwards. There is a multitude of different styles and represents the freeing of the rigid structure of the past. Some examples include the Church of Nossa Senhora at Saligao built in the gothic style.
Most of the churches are functioning institutions and can be seen and prayed in. Most are revered by both Hindus and Christians alike because of their past.