This Saturday, on 3rd December, marks the anniversary of St Francis Xavier’s death, when thousands gather at the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
This annual festival, known as the Feast of St Francis Xavier or Goinchea Saibache Fest, (Lord of Goa Festival), is the biggest of all the Christian festivals in Goa. People from near and far come to participate in the morning mass.
Saint Francis Xavier
St Francis Xavier came to Goa as a missionary in 1542, and began preaching to both the Goans and his fellow Europeans. During the next ten years he converted many thousands to Christianity, despite the resistance of some of the European officials he encountered, as well as language constraints (he wasn’t proficient in foreign languages as is commonly believed).
He died of a fever on a Chinese island in 1552, at just 46 years old, and was brought back to Goa a few years later.
In 1637 his body was laid to rest in a silver casket, constructed by Goan silversmiths, who blended beautifully both Italian and Indian aesthetics in its design. 32 silver plates placed on the sides of the casket each depict a different episode in the life of the Saint. The casket was placed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus where it remains to this day. Once every ten years there is a public viewing of his body, the next being due in 2024.
Considered one of the greatest missionaries since St Paul, the anniversary of his death is also remembered in Spain, the land of his birth, as The Day of Navarre (Día de Navarra).
Visiting Old Goa and the Basilica of Bom Jesus
Once known as the ‘Rome of the East’, Old Goa is fascinating to explore with many reminders of the region’s former grandeur and the importance it held in the colonial era. There are a number of colonial buildings, convents, and churches, including the Basilica of Bom Jesus, that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The basilica itself is one of the oldest churches in Goa. Completed in 1605, it is regarded as the finest example of baroque architecture in the whole of India and is today one of Goa’s most popular attractions.
The interior is relatively simple with a few exceptions - the floor is made of marble inlaid with precious stones and there is an elaborately gilded alter.
A mausoleum, holding the remains of the Saint, was designed by the 17th-century Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini and took ten years to complete.
The Goa Experience offer several excursions that incorporate a visit to Old Goa, all including a tour of the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Price from £20 per person
Discover Old Goa and Panjim’s historic Latin and Hindu Quarters.
Price from £40 per person
Explore Old Goa, visit a spice plantation and take a ride along the River Zuari for some wildlife spotting.
Price from £35 per person
Visit Hindu temples, a spice plantation, the historic churches of Old Goa and the shops and markets of Panjim. Read an in-depth review of the Glimpses of Goa tour here.
Where to stay
If you would like to spend more time exploring this part of Goa at your own pace, the historic Panjim Inn is situated in the heart of Fontainhas, the fascinating Latin Quarter of Panjim.
Recognised as Goa’s first classified Heritage hotel, this family-run inn offers a unique experience, transporting you back in time to Goa’s colonial past. And it’s the perfect base from which to explore the area and nearby Old Goa.
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