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Unrequited love in Saligao

by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day earmarked to celebrate love and romance between couples. The history behind the origin of this festival is rather blurred, and there are several stories that link it to both Christian as well as ancient Roman traditions. The Church recognises more than one martyr named Valentine/Valentinus. However, the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints no longer mentions Saint Valentine on February 14th (St. Cyril and St. Methodius are associated with this date).

One of the legends refers to Valentine, a Roman priest and physician, who, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, ministered to Christians in prison and often helped them escape. One fine day the Emperor decided that a man without the encumbrance of a wife and children would make a better soldier, and so he prohibited young men to marry. Valentine ignored this decree and continued to perform marriages for young couples. When the Emperor found out about this disregard for his command, he ordered that Valentine be executed. In prison, on the night before he was to be put to death, it is said that Valentine wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter – whom he had befriended earlier after miraculously curing her blindness – and ended the letter with “From your Valentine”. So that’s why lovers send “valentines” to each other on February 14th, the day of St. Valentine’s execution in 269 AD. Of course there is no verifiable historical evidence for most of these contentions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that last part about the letter and greetings was concocted by some canny greeting card company!

Anyway, over the years Valentine’s Day has come to be associated with many charming stories and forms the basis for much folklore. Let me tell you one such story from our very own village:

Back in the middle of the twentieth century, there lived a young lad and young lass in the village of Saligao in Goa. The lad, named Sacra Familia, resided not far from the lass, named Ursula. One year, on the 14th of February, no longer able to keep secret his fervent love for her, the lad somehow plucked up enough courage and sent the lass a Valentine card. He waited and waited for the girl of his dreams to respond, but Ursula ignored him completely. Sacra Familia was sad and dejected but refused to give up hope, and during the next few years put in place a strategy to woo Ursula. Celebrity portmanteaux such as Brangelina, TomKat, Bennifer and whatnot might be popular these days, but our Sacra Familia was way ahead of the game and concocted his own name-blend a good half-century ago. He proclaimed to all and sundry that he and his supposed girlfriend would henceforth be known as Sacrula (Sacra+Ursula)!!

Sacrula did not stop at just that. To impress his ladylove he learned a host of magic tricks and acrobatic acts and would perform them on demand as he rode his Raleigh bicycle through the village. He would deliver sermons at prominent points in the village, and they invariably ended in this manner: “Who are the three greatest men on earth? First the Pope [at that time it was Pope Pius XII], second Dr. Salazar [the then prime minister of Portugal], and third – SACRULA.”

Sacrula: Photo by Joseph St. Anne, from his book “Echoes – The Spirit of Saligao and Goa”

Sacrula: Photo by Joseph St. Anne, from his book “Echoes – The Spirit of Saligao and Goa”.

To make his muse and himself famous, he covered the length and breadth of Goa and even travelled to some towns and cities of India. His peculiar dressing style was possibly intended to resemble that of a Franciscan friar or perhaps St. Anthony of Lisbon. In his book Feasts, Feni and Firecrackers, Mel D’Souza provides a graphic description of Sacrula: “He would style his hair in the form of a halo resembling that of a saint. He wore a brown shirt with puffy sleeves, frilly cuffs, a frilly collar and frilly shirt front. His shirt matched his dark brown Jodhpur slacks which had a thick cord tied around the waistband. His footwear was a pair of regular slippers except that his had a strap that went behind the ankle.”

The cord around Sacrula’s waist would have a Cross hanging at the side and he would often carry a statue of St Anthony with him. Wherever he went, people would soon gather around. Bowing to the crowd, and with folded hands, Sacrula would then deliver his sermons in chaste English, Konkani, Portuguese, Marathi or Hindi as appropriate.

During Lent, at the Carrying of the Cross Passo in Saligao, which in our days went around the Aula Road and took a turn at the Tinto Road in the direction of the church, Sacrula always attracted the attention of the processionalists and especially of Ursula as he stationed himself dressed in his favourite finery, at the third Descano (where the procession stopped to meditate on a Motete), near the Cotula fields.

Unfortunately the story of Sacrula does not have a happy ending. Sacra Familia never married Ursula, and they died some years ago, he a bachelor, and she a spinster.

11 comments on Unrequited love in Saligao

  • Agnelo Fernandes

    Remember taking Sacrula’s blessing many a time in my younger days, thinking he was some kind of a holy person.

  • Joel

    Very interesting article. Sacrula’s photograph too brought nostalgic memories of the rather ‘mysterious’ person, whom some considered a prophet – probably because of the brown habit that he used to wear. I remember him preaching outside the Bom Jesus basilica in Old Goa, while the feast Mass was going on inside, and waving out two fingers, meaning the world would end within two years… That was sometime in 1959/60… and the world is still revolving/rotating as usual so many years later. Of course, Sacrula lives no more to realise that his prophecy was false.
    Wish you good health, Fr Nascimento.

  • I remember Sacrula quite well. I was a young lad studying at St. Anthony’s High School, Monte de Guirim, during the late 1950’s and early 1960′s. It was during the afternoon recess that Sacrula would make one of his rare but entertaining appearances at the school.

    I considered him to be highly erudite and he was well known as Sacrula de Saligao. He seemed to have all the fine qualities of a great orator. He drew the attention of students with awe, wonder and humour. His eccentricity was as astonishing as his speeches. Students gathered around him to hear him as soon as they heard of his arrival at the school. His trademark was his cycle, a Franciscan habit and an umbrella with an insignia of some sort that I don’t recall. Was it S.F.X.? I wonder. If I am not mistaken the insignia was in three different colours. He was never afraid of heights. He liked to stand above the rest when his delivered one of his amazing speeches, and the parapet facing the school refectory or the ledge at the lower terrace posed no challenge for the extraordinary and unforgettable man. In my opinion, he was a great guy, who may have been taken for granted by folks at the time.

    On another note, I lived in Guirim at the time. During school holidays, I often visited my aunt at Candolim on a bicycle via Saligao, sometimes catching a glimpse of him on his balcony of his imposing house.

    Thank you for posting Sacrula’s photograph and for the informative article. It brought back memories of a bygone era.

    In the past, I have mentioned Sacrula in my short articles, on my blog, and also on our forum, Goanet and GulfGoans.

    http://www.tonferns.blogspot.com
    http://tonferns.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html

  • Ignatius Fernandes

    More stories of this calibre please, something odd unusual, odd, and amazing.

  • Naguesh Bhatcar

    I too remember this gentleman riding into Verem/Reis Magos, on his bicycle, in his typical attire. I must have been 6 or 7 years old then. I believe they used to address him as “Sant” (Saint).
    Till I read this piece from Fr. Nascimento, I was not aware of the background of Sacra Familia alias Sacrula. I passed on this link to my sister and she immediately recognized the person as “Sant”.

  • fr. nascimento mascarenhas

    Dear Tony,
    Greetings from sunny Goa !
    You surely added lot of details of Sacro or Sacrula in your writing that brought out the real man and his personality. I knew him quite well. Finally I met him in one of the aged homes in Saligao run by the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King (FMCK) much before his death. He smiled and spoke at length and finally asked for my priestly blessing. In few days time he left us all for eternity. But Sacra Familia was and is an instution in the village of Saligao and though he is with the Lord and St. Anthony he is remembered and spoken about till to-day.
    I was glad to know that you were schooling at Monte de Guirim, Goa and that you are in Mississauga now. God bless your good work. My prayers are with you. Thanks once again for your comments.More power to your pen . With love, fr. nascimento mascarenhas.

    [Thanks also to Agnelo, Joel and Naguesh for the interesting comments. Ignatius, check out "Village Folk" in the People section; you might find the stories therein quite entertaining.]

  • Merwyn Sequeira

    Sacrula!!
    Definitely the colour of Saligao in the days gone by. He was my Mum’s
    neighbour and a frequent visitor at our home. I remember holding him in awe every time he came over.
    One prank that some of the us boys played on him (we were in our teens then), was we ran away with the boiled gram (chone) he had prepared to be served after a litany at his home.

    God bless his kindly soul.

  • fr.nascimento mascarenhas

    Dear Merwyn,
    The pranks you yougsters played on him he took them with a smile. However he loved children and even blessed them. His own name Sacra Familia reminded him of the Holy Family of Nazareth, a model to our families.
    In union with the Holy Family,
    fr. nascimento mascarenhas

  • fr.nascimento mascarenhas

    Dear mr. Naguesh Bhattcar,
    Our Sacrula or Sacro de Saligao loved children very much Everywhere he went the children, who are rather grown up now told me about him during my pastoral duties parish I was in charge ans serve the faithful. With children he was much at ease but there were some who disturbed him during speeches and he would again start from te beginning with seriousness that his speeches demamded. His portuguese speeches were read and corrected by a priest friend before he deliveredbefore he demivered them The priest friend of his in the ward of Arrarim had retired from parish duties Sacro could with easy speak in English, Portuguese, , Konkani, Marathi and Hindi. Here and there he made use of some latin words and phrases. May from heaven he bless you and your family. With prayers, fr. nascimento mascarenhas

  • dr ronald coelho

    Dear Tony
    I am a doctor in chicago and came across this article about sacrula.He is my uncle and my mums brother.People used to say he was mad just because he was eccentric but i always knew that he was the latter.
    His love of bicycling is legendary and is perhaps the reason that i love to bike here in chicago to this day at the ripe old age of 62 occasionally doing 100 miles in a single day.
    I did not know that he coined the name sacrula from his first name and that of his unrequited lover ursula.Thanks for the information.
    Many years ago when i only dreamt of becoming a physician He placed his hand on my head and said a prayer and emphatically stated that i would become one which i remember to this day.
    Maybe he did have some power to see into the future.
    My hats off to him and may his soul rest in peace and may he continue to inspire people in that lovely village of saligao.
    Ron Coelho.

  • dr ronald coelho

    I also want to thank whoever posted the picture of him in the book.
    Ron Coelho

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