A UNESCO World Heritage Site -The Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a model of simplicity and elegance along with a fine example of Jesuit architecture. The Jesuit church is considered to be one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India and is India’s first minor basilica. The Basilica ranks among the finest churches of Goa and is richly decorated with elements borrowed from the baroque. Yet nothing could better possibly adorn this Basilica than the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa, that have been housed in this church ever since 19th of February 1624. Surely no pilgrim leaves Goa without paying their respects to this saint so devoutly honored as Goemcho Saib, the Lord of Goa.

The construction of the Church of the Bom Jesus began on 24th November 1594. The church was consecrated on the 15th of May 1605 by Arch Bishop Alexio de Menezes and dedicated to Bom Jesus which means Good Jesus. Julio Simao, an architect of French descent, assisted Br Domingoes Fernandes SJ, in constructing this magnificent edifice. Don Herorino Mascarenhas, died in 1593, the captain of Cochin and Ormuz, had bequed a large fund towards the construction of this Church. A gilded cenotaph, within the nave of the Basilica commemorates his memory.

The Church is built in cruciform, with a single nave, a sanctuary and two vaulted chapels at its transepts. It is 55.7 meters long, 16.76 meters broad and 18.59 meters high. The use of the red laterite stone so commonly found in Goa highlights the architectural grandeur of this church. The impressive three storeyed façade is built in granite and clearly reveals the ionic doric and Corinthians columns in stages.

The Top of façade is embellished with a stone carving of the IHS gracefully upheld by the angels. The letters IHS are the 3 letters of the name of Jesus Christ in Greek. The IHS is also the monogram of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits, who usually stamped their churches with this insignia.

On 20th March 1946, Pope Pius XII raised the church of the Bom Jesus to the rank of the minor basilica. In 1986, the UNESCO declared the Basilica of Bom Jesus to be a World Heritage monument.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa has the tomb Saint Francis Xavier. The mausoleum of St Francis Xavier is situated in the right transept of the Basilica. Along with the rich paintings on the life of St Francis Xavier in the transept, the mausoleum is undoubtedly a work of art. It was designed by the renowned Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini over a period of 10 years. Two artists from Italy accompanied the work to Goa and had it installed in the church of Bom Jesus on 8 November 1698. The entire work was funded by the Grand duke of Tuscany, Cosmas III. The rectangular base of the mausoleum is built in jasper. Cherubs and Angels with weeds carved with white marble dot its border. The large bluish marble coffer, with bronze shields on its four sides rests upon this base. These bronze shields are intricate carvings based on the life of St Francis Xavier. The Bronze shield facing the nave, displays Francis Xavier preaching the Gospel to the people. Above this shield, two angels hold out a scroll that reads Mox imimica Fugat – He at once drives away all hostility.

The silver shield bearing the Court of Arms of Xavier’s family is also visible above the bronze shield. As one moves to the right, one finds Francis Xavier clad in a surplus and a cross in his hand baptizing men, women and children. Above this Bronze shield, the angel unfolds the scroll that reads Ut Viteam habeiam – That they may have life. The third shield portrays Francis Xavier suing away from the hostile inhabitants of the island of Morocco. The scroll unfolded by the angels above reads mihit horum verero – I fear none of these. The last shield displays the death of Francis Xavier at Sancian. The scroll above reads maior in occasus - Greater in settings. A marble ballustride above of the mausoleum upholds the silver casket containing the relics of St Francis Xavier. This casket was the initiative of Fr Marcello Mastrelli and was completed in 1637. It contains panels displaying the relief scene from the life of Francis Xavier and has been the fruit of local artist who worked together with European priests and artists, especially the Flemish Artist.

It is the only church in Old Goa, which is not plastered on the outside, the lime plaster has been stripped off in order the church to look antiquity and historic continuity of the Portuguese presence in Asia. This magnificent structure is called ‘Bom Jesus’ meaning 'good Jesus' or 'infant Jesus' to whom it is dedicated.