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A Walk Through the Saligao Church Courtyard

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

The Mae de Deus Church in Saligao is surrounded by a sizeable courtyard, aptly setting back the impressive façade of the building from the busy CHOGM Road, enabling tourists visiting Goa as well as locals to adequately soak in the Neo-Gothic architectural beauty of the church building as they pass by.

The 3-storey-high church, founded on 26 November 1873, with its prominent horizontal rustication and series of buttress fins with Gothic pinnacles studded with crockets and capped with fleur-de-lis finials, has concrete columns that arch together at the apex to support a pinnacle atop which is a cross.

The parish house is attached to the church, at the side. Adjoining the parish house is a small garden with a parapet providing sitting space. This came into existence a few years back. A stone, with an inscription and the symbol of the Franciscan Order belonging to the old Mother of God Convent of Daugim, was brought recently from the ruins of the Convent of Daugim in Old Goa. This inscription is placed at the entrance of the corridor.

As I walked around the compound with my friend Salvador Mascarenhas, we reached a small gate, opening onto the road leading to Dakttem (Pequeno) Morodd, Golletem, etc. Turning around, we saw the age-old yellow-flower tree, its trunk now enclosed within black stone seats. We recollected that during Lent every year the flowers of this tree would be strewn all around, while the faithful listened to the Veronica song sung from an erected mattou (tent). It was followed by a sermon on the Passion of Jesus, delivered from the pulpit. This pulpit has an inscription in Portuguese “A MEMORIA DA SUA ESPOSA MARIA ESCOLASTICA LOBO NASCIDA EM 28-2-1900 FALECIDA EM 10-11-1923. E FILHA LINDA COELHO NASCIDA EM 5-11-1923 FALECIDA EM 17-10-1931. LAGRIMAS E SAUDADES DO ESPOSO E PAI RODOLFO SEBASTIAO COELHO, IRMA E MADRASTA MARIA TEODOLINDA LOBO. (In memory of his wife Maria Escolastica Lobo Born on 28-2-1900 Died on 10-11-1923. And daughter Linda Coelho Born on 5-11-1923 Died on 17-10-1931. Tears and remembrances of her husband and father Rodolfo Sebastiao Coelho, Sister and Stepmother Maria Teodolinda Lobo).

After walking a little distance we came to a gate that brings in parishioners from Cotula, Muddavaddi, etc, into the courtyard. Salvador reminded me that there used to be two large trees at this spot; the fruit, known as duddkim, looked quite pretty hanging from the trees. Opposite this gate, on the road leading to the cemetery, was another Duddkem tree, but that too is long gone. Salvador also recalled the two Komé trees that stood in the corners, ablaze with red flowers in the summer months, visible to all who visited the church, especially during the May feast days and summer holidays.

We turned a bit and proceeded towards the first monument – that of Mãe de Deus. It has the following inscription in Portuguese: PADRAO COMEMORATIVO DO CINQUENTENARIO DA IGREJA DE MAE DE DEUS. OFERECE DR. RODOLFO DE MELO EM MEMORIA DOS SAUDOSOS DR. CAETANINHO DE MELO, INES DE MELO, JOSE  VINCENTE DE MELO (Commemorative monument of the fiftieth anniversary of the church of Mãe de Deus. Offered by Dr. Rodolfo de Melo in memory of his ever loving Dr. Caetaninho de Melo, Inês de Melo, José de Melo). This monument was erected there during the Vicarship of Fr.António Francisco das Mercês de Melo (1947-54), though the celebrations of 50th anniversary of the foundation of the church were held in 1923. At that time (1923) Dr. Rodolfo de Melo played a prominent part in the celebrations of this golden jubilee of the church by organising a major classical concert in the church compound.

A little further there is another monument, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. The inscription thereon reads as follows: FOI AOS PASTORINHOS QUE A VIRGEM FALOU DESDE ENTAO NAS ALMAS NOVA LUZ BRILHOU. LEMBRANCA DA APARICAO DA VIRGEM EM FATIMA. OFERECE DR. RODOLFO DE MELO EM MAMORIA DOS SEUS QUERIDOS; MAE JASMIN, IRMAO ROLDAO, CUNHADA EDVIGES E SOBRINHA OLIVIA. ANO MARIANO 1954. (It was to the shepherd children that the Virgin spoke and from then on a new light shone in their hearts. In remembrance of the apparition of the Virgin in Fatima. Offers this monument Dr. Rodolfo de Melo, in memory of his mother Jasmin, brother Roldao, sister-in-law Edviges and niece Olivia. Marian Year 1954.)

A little away is the bandstand. The commemorative plaque states: PAVILHAO M. R. DE SOUZA. OFFERECIDO POR SEUS NETOS CEDRIC M.R. EMAR DE SOUZA, M. STEPHEN EMAR DE SOUZA E M. BLANDINA EMAR DE SOUZA NA PAROQUIACAO DO VIGARIO PE. NATIVIDADE DE SOUZA. 29-12-1960. (Pavilion M.R. de Souza. Offered by his grand-children Cedric M.R. Emar de Souza, M. Stephen Emar de Souza and M. Blandina de Souza, during the Vicarship of Fr. Natividade de Souza. 29-12-1960).

The bandstand during our times is best described by Mel D’Souza in his book Feasts, Feni and Firecrackers. “The bandstand was a box-like frame made of bamboo with the lower ends of the uprights positioned firmly in the ground. The square frame at the top kept the uprights in alignment while a waist-high railing kept the kids out of the bandstand. Stuck firmly in the ground in the centre of the bandstand would be another sturdy bamboo pole to which all the uprights were braced. From this pole would hang the bright Petromax lamp with its distinctive hissing sound that came from the release of pressurized kerosene. The uprights would be covered with palm fronds, and the horizontal poles with buntings and coloured streamers. And around this bandstand, amid coconut trees silhouetted against a starry tropical sky, the folk would gather to listen to the band of the evening”.

Continuing our walk, we reached the side door of the church from where the feast procession begins. At its foot, the brass band played the Saligao hymn composed by Antonio Mascarenhas from Arrarim “O Brilhante é a Estrela”. The tune stirred the hearts of the people, uplifting their souls heavenwards. Just a few metres away from the outside door, there used to be a huge tree crowned with natural yellow flowers, swaying in the breeze, while the melodious chiming of the bells, strains of the band, and the deafening sounds of the khonnes helped the people dressed in festive clothes and undisturbed by the heat of the May strong sun, pray and give thanks to God. They were followed by confrades, altar boys, the clergy and the main celebrant carrying the image of the patroness and the choir members and the musicians following the traditional processional route chanting hymns with fervor and devotion. All these images came alive in our minds as we stood at this spot.

Today, there is a cement floor and a stage on this land. The inscription on the stage says “Centenary gift to Saligao, in memory of Vitorinho Francisco Saldanha and Maria Conceição da Cruz Saldanha. 26th November 1972.”  Behind this stage there used to be the parochial school, established in 1873. It was endowed with its own building raised in 1878. This was razed to the ground in 1972. We have nostalgic memories of this parish school, which helped many to learn the three R’s as well as the tenets of religion and rudiments of music both religious and secular. The last choir master who taught in this parish school was Mr. Eustaquinho D’Souza.

Alongside the fences of the church compound there are altogether nineteen small crosses beneath which are nineteen niches with relics and names of the deceased parishioners. There are also numerous Ashoka trees in the compound. Electric lights on the grounds and at various places on the façade and sides of the majestic structure when illuminated at night make the church look very beautiful. There are roads on all sides of the fence except at the rear. In earlier times there was a ‘paim-vatt’ or small walking path for parishioners of Pequeno Morodd and Goletem, which is now closed.

The last part of our walk took us to the spot where once a memorial cross commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Mae de Deus Church, Saligao, stood. It was sunset as we recalled this event. Let me relate to you some details from documents published at that time:

“The Patriarch of Goa D. Matheus de Oliveira Xavier who was the main celebrant of the evening religious function on 26th November 1923, dressed in his ceremonial surplice, stole, cape and more, proceeded in procession to bless the corner stone of a cross to be soon erected in the compound of the church which was to be the memorial of these fiftieth anniversary celebrations.  It would be a baroque version cross having a pedestal on which would rest a rounded part of the lower structure. This part was to be separated from the upper part by a ring like design format. The upper part which was like an octagonal crown shaped form was joined to the lower part which would end with a cross socle round on top in which the granite black cross, coming from Daugim in Old Goa, was to be fixed.”

This stone structure coated all over with cement was painted white, with the granite black cross on top, adding architectural beauty to the square. This beautiful cross of the compound is shown in the map drawn in 1923 by Joao Salustiano de Souza from Saligão in the Souvenir marking the fiftieth year celebrations. Later on a photo of the neo-gothic Church and the cross in the compound was taken by photographer Paul and Co, Panjim.

In 1972, this cross mysteriously disappeared. Strangely, the disappearance was met with complete silence from all sides. Some people did raise their voices during the centenary celebrations of the church in1973. But they were shushed during the festive season, and later on nobody came forward to officially protest. In private though, people did discuss the disappearance of the cross, and hoped that it would be reinstated once again in the adro (compound). Finally, after 37 years, a new cross was built during the vicarship of Fr. Luciano Fernandes (June 2008-  ). It was placed between the two monuments of Our Lady of Mãe de Deus and Our Lady of Fatima in the courtyard and blessed by Fr. Casmiro D’Mello from Sonarbhatt, in the presence of the Parish Priest and parishioners of Saligao in 2009. The contributions for this new cross came from Comunidade de Saligao and some others.

This walk through the courtyard of Saligao Church brought to us lot of happy memories of the past, especially ones in connection with the memorial cross; we youngsters used to sit on its pedestal on Sunday and Thursday evenings, learning the doctrine of our Catholic faith, and also carefully listening to the sermons preached outdoors during the Lenten season. We took part in processions in the courtyard held around the cross and also witnessed football and volleyball matches played in the compound. After salves, we listened to the sweet music played by various bands and watched fireworks and sometimes simply chatted with our friends – all this under the shadow of the cross. After home and school, it is in the church and its compound that we spent so much of our quality time. Those were the days!

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