On the way back from Old Goa on Day 2 @ Goa, we had spotted what looked like some ruins atop a hillside to our left. The brother had rented a bike and rode alongside the car, giving more room in the car for Pumbaa to spread his legs
He told us to go on to Panaji, and said he’ll ride up the hill, take a look and be back. He clicked a few snaps, showed it to me and I was in despair that we had missed it! And my face had this downward curve which the husband, as always, decided to twist upward
And thus, to our new list for Day 3 @ Goa—which was planned to be a foot tour of the Panaji city post parasailing at Colva Beach and a dinner at Martin’s Corner to celebrate the brother’s birthday—was added The Ruins of St Augustine Complex, Old Goa.
So now, this in itself would be a whole part of the travellogue, because it was so stunning a place, I personally think it was the very highlight of our trip! Er er…actually, I’m a little confused between giving “The Highlight Of The Trip” award to parasailing or the ruins
Anyway, though the husband commented in passing the previous night that we’d go see the ruins the next day, I neither took it seriously, nor remembered it by next morning. So, when we suddenly took a detour on our way to Panaji to a direction that a board screamed out “Old Goa”, I was surprised.
And when I saw the towering, ominous looking, in-ruins belfry of god-knows-what, surprise turned to pure AWE! I almost threw off the mobile phone, grabbed the camera and jumped off the car!
Oh my God. Don’t you think this is an amazing sight!? The sky was an amazing blue, with the bright clouds covering up a sun struggling to come out! And nothing else in the frame…not even a bird, but just a 46-metre-high colossal belfry tower of a church built 408 years ago! Yes, a full four-hundred-and-eight years ago!
This massive tower, the St Augustine’s tower, is one of the four towers that once stood at the site—the only remaining part of what was once one of Goa’s largest building—the Augustinian Monastery.
Friars of the Augustinian Order arrived in Goa in 1572 and built a small convent on Holy Hill. The convent had three storeys, with two really huge stone staircases that led upstairs. The convent had two cloisters, many corridors, pillars, galleries and halls with numerous rooms, a refractory, guesthouse and a spacious infirmary. It also had vast dormitories, numerous cells and other structures (all of which are now in ruins).
The convent was later enlarged, in 1602, to become a complex–one that housed this colossal belfry tower, eight chapels, four altars and the extensive convent. The tower faces the east and was built of laterite, like most parts of the complex, and formed part of the Church of St Augustine.
The building was completed between 1597 and 1602. Though the name of the designer of this magnificent piece of construction is not known, he is thought to have been Italian. And when it was completed in 1602, the grand Nossa Senhora da Graca Church was worthy of recognition for being one of the three great Augustinian churches in the Iberian world—the other two being the Basilica of the Escorial in Spain and the St Vincente de Fora in Lisbon.
On entering the church, one gets a glimpse of a regal, grand retable of the high altar—with its large gilt tabernacle safeguarded within an arch, through a screen of arched piers. Vestiges of these piers supported a spacious choir which easily could have accommodated a large number of Augustinian monks; most of these vestiges were visible until recently.
The repressive policies of the Portuguese government resulted in the eviction of many religious orders from Goa…which led to its abandonment in 1835. The church fell into neglect and the vault collapsed in 1842, accelerating the church’s demise! The body of the church was soon destroyed as per government orders, but the facade remained intact.
The tower’s huge bell was moved initially to Fort Aguada and later, in 1871, to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim: where it still tolls!!! The facade and half of the tower fell in 1931 and more parts gave way in 1938.
The nave of the Church now stare up at the sky, from where God probably looks down fondly at his long-ago royal abode! The nape is open to the sky, under whose dilapidated yet lovely arches, local folk sometimes gather for a talk.
We stood around too…for almost an hour and half. Just walking around the place took us way back in time. And we murmured over and over again, “This place is just out of this world!”. As the day wore on, and dusk approached, the place grew more ominous, more quiet, more chilling. Thrilling nevertheless.
Ruins of St Augustine Complex, Holy Hill, Old Goa.I have only one word for it. Magnificent.
P.S. That I was watching the movie Day After Tomorrow as I was typing this out, did NOT help much, except add to the ominosity