Church of St Francis of Assisi

Old Goa

West of the Sé Cathedral, the Church of St Francis of Assisi is no longer in use for worship, and consequently exudes a more mournful air than its neighbours.

The church started life as a small chapel, built on this site by eight Franciscan friars on their arrival in 1517. In 1521 it was replaced by a church consecrated to the Holy Ghost, which was then subsequently rebuilt in 1661, with only the doorway of the old building incorporated into the new structure. This original doorway, in ornate Manueline style, contrasts strongly with the rest of the facade, the plainness of which had become the fashion by the 17th century.

Maritime themes – unsurprising given Old Goa’s important port status – can be seen here and there, including navigators’ globes and coats of arms, which once adorned ships’ sails.

The interior of the church, though now rather ragged and faded, is nevertheless beautiful, in a particularly ‘folk art’ style. The walls and ceiling are heavily gilded and decorated with carved wood panels, with large paintings depicting the works of St Francis adorning the walls of the chancel. Look out for the huge arch that supports the choir, painted vividly with floral designs, and the intricately carved pulpit. The reredos (ornamental screen) dominates the gilded show, although this one is different to others in Old Goa, with a deep recess for the tabernacle. The four statues in its lower portion represent apostles, and above the reredos hangs Christ on the cross. The symbolism of this scene is unmistakable: Jesus has his right arm free to embrace St Francis, who is standing atop the three vows of the Franciscan order – Poverty, Humility and Obedience.