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Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Basilica of Bom Jesus, situated in Old Goa, is undoubtedly the picture postcard of Christianity in Goa. The Basilica houses the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit to reach Goa. The Basilica is also India’s first minor basilica and is considered to be among the best examples of baroque architecture in India.
The foundation stone of this Jesuit Church was laid on 24 November 1594. It was built out of the huge bequest of Dom Jeronimo Mascarenhas, captain of Cochin (South India) and Ormuz (Persia) who died in 1594 and a generous donation of 50 thousand xerafins by Joao Dias Ribeiro and his son Domingos. The cenotaph of Dom Mascarenhas is seen on the southern wall, near the side door; opposite to it you can see the wooden pulpit. The church was consecrated on 15 May 1605, by Dom Alexio de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa (1595-1609).
The Church is of laterite; its exterior on the northern side was originally plastered with lime which was removed in 1951 by a Portuguese architect, Mr. Baltazar de Castro, who thought that by exposure the stones would get hardened; but the effect was disastrous, the red stones are corroded by the salt breeze. The roof was originally tiled. On the opposite of the left pillar supporting the organ-loft, there is a tablet informing that the roof was repaired in 1862 by the Governor, Count of Torres. This Governor must be Dom Antonio Cesar do Vasconcelos Correira, Count of Torres Novas (1855-62)
The Church is dedicated to Bom Jesus meaning ‘Good Jesus’ — the original name was simply ‘Jesus’. The façade has on its top the letters ‘HIS’ which are the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek — IHSUS. In ancient times the letter I was used instead of the letter J which did not then exist. Hence on the top of every Cross you read this inscription INRI which means Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). The letter H in Greek is E and not as in English. The IHS is a Jesuit monogram.
The Church is cruciform. Its façade, which is facing the West, is the combination of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders; the main entrance flanked by two smaller doors, each having Corinthian columns. The church is 55.77 meters long, 16.76 meters broad and 18.59 meters high. The tower which is above the main altar, is 118 feet.
The transept of the church ends on each side in a chapel. To the left you see the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament guarded by a huge arch and strong Corinthian pillar. From 1623, the Relics of the body of St Francis Xavier were kept for 43 years in this chapel; but in 1660 these relics were transferred to the present site where you now have the Mausoleum. The altar is meant for the Tabernacle only. Now the Blessed Sacrament is preserved in a small gold Tabernacle, which was first kept on the main altar below the huge statue of St. Ignatius. This Tabernacle was a gift sent in 1966 by the parishioners of Hanover (then West Germany).
Altar of Our Lady of Mercy
To the left below the high arch giving entrance to the sanctuary; there is an altar dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy; above her in a niche there stands the statue of St. Dominic.
Altar of St. Michael
To the right of the said arch, there is an altar dedicated to St. Michael; above him there is another small statue of the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception.
The Liturgical Altar
This Altar was set up in the transept by assembling parts of the old discarded altars, on which the priest offers Mass facing the people. It was inaugurated on 12 March 1965. In 1995, this altar was shifted to the entrance of the sanctuary; originally it was set below the sanctuary.
The Main Altar
This altar is set on the back wall of the sanctuary and it dominates the whole Church. In the middle of the altar, there stands a giant statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola in priestly vestments, nearly three meters high. He is the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose members are commonly known as the Jesuits. The Church however is not dedicated to him, but to Jesus. His face is turned upwards in a state of ecstasy. His face is fixed immediately on the medallion containing the Greek letters, IHS, the first three letters of the holy name of Jesus.
Above the monogram of Jesus there sits the Holy Trinity in full glory whom Ignatius contemplates through the medallion which is shown as a round Host. When St. Ignatius lifted up the Consecrated Host during Mass, he would often see the Blessed Trinity through that Host.
There is a small statue of the Infant Jesus (Bom Jesus) standing on a small pedestal attached to the pedestal on which St. Ignatius stands. It is a later addition. The child Jesus is dwarfed at the feet of the gigantic figure of St. Ignatius. No designer would have given such an insignificant place to the patron of a Church. The statue of the child Jesus might have been introduced on the main altar to justify the title of the Church Jesus after the suppression of the Jesuits in Goa. The new masters must have failed to read the name of ‘Jesus’ in the Greek lettered monogram ‘IHS'.
To the right of the transept i.e. to the North, there is the Mausoleum made by a Florentine sculptor, Giovanni Batista Foginni (1653-1737) — a magnificent gift of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosmas II (1670-1723). It was brought to Goa by two artists, one of them is Placido Francisco Ramponi who worked on it for nearly 25 days (14.10.1698 - 8.11.1698).
The Silver Casket
On this marble Mausoleum, is set the Silver Casket, made through the initiative of Father Marcello Mastrilli, an Italian Jesuit. The crystal Urn, containing the relics of the body of St. Francis Xavier, was placed in the Silver Casket on 13 February 1955. The old wooden coffin is now lying in the private museum of Casa Professa. This crystal glass urn was made in the Casa Brandizzi, Rome and was brought to Goa on 30 January 1955.