A land of beaches, good food and music! Well, that’s not all there is to the beautiful state of Goa. Hidden along the evergreen roads of Goa’s former capital of Old Goa along the old Ponte Conde de Linhares route lies the world-famous ruins of St Augustine Tower and Church complex in Old Goa. A truly mesmerizing site for history lovers and those with a keen interest in structures of the past as they always have a magical story that culminates in their being. Although famous among the Goan community due to its religious history, the tower is lesser known to incoming tourists, who end up visiting these historic remnants on their way to Old Goa. But now as the story of this long standing structure has received acknowledgement these ruins are being reproduced on postcards and travel brochures, bringing to light the fact that it also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The story of this once mighty church began almost 400 years ago as the construction of this religious complex is believed to have been completed in around the early 1600’s. The St Augustine Tower and Church complex ruins stand high up on the Monte Santo (Holy Hill) at Old Goa. Built by the Augustinian friars on their arrival to Goa, the site of the St Augustine church was once supposed to be that of the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace). Built as the prime point of the church, the St Augustine tower was one of four towers that complimented the impressive construction of the entire complex. It stood as a mighty laterite stone structure almost 50 meters high built to serve as a belfry while the rest of the church complex held four altars, 8 chapels and a convent.
As interesting and intriguing as the St Agustanian tower and church are claimed to have been, it also comes with an even more fascinating story attached to it, ‘the lost parts of a Queen Ketevan, from a far away land’. This is a story of the 17th century where the relics of Queen Ketevan of Eastern Georgia, considered a martyr having died for her religion, were lost at sea due to raids on the region. However, a lesser known fact was that her right arm had been taken to Goa in 1627 by Portuguese friars to be interred in the St Augustine complex. But alas, the story ends here as the Augustinians left the complex in 1835, after which it collapsed in stages and no record of Ketevan’s relic exists after its abandonment. Hence, the story ends here and the history and magic it held collapsed with the ruins of the church complex.
The church complex and tower hold not one but many such legends and lores. Old records hold evidence to how the vault of the church fell down twice whilst being erected and the whole structure was tedious to construct in the first place. And believe it or not, some say that the third and final attempt to erect it was the most obnoxious as the architect placed his only son within the church walls and ordered that a cannon be fired at the structure to show his confidence in his design. Luckily, the structure held and his confidence stood the test of gravity.
A structure with so much history and vigor is definitely a must visit on an adventurous trip to Goa. It is open on weekdays for a visit, but you can catch a glimpse of it on any day at any time as you pass it while travelling the roads of Old Goa. You can go wild with your imagination and recreate this once hefty structure in your minds as you look through the ruins while getting a feel of the history. A visit to the church that holds the relics of patron St. Francis Xavier can also be on the list, but for that December is the best month as the 3rd of December marks the feast of this Goan patron and is celebrated with great pomp throughout the state, especially in Old Goa.
Although there is very little that can be seen today of the gracious church that stood at this site, as all that is left is now a tower, it is definitely worth a visit. It also appears on our blog, ‘Exploring Old Goa’ (https://youtu.be/vZ03A-kj5Gg) where we scramble over the old ruins and reflect on the passage of time.