Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa: the most famous church in India

Hitaishi Majumder | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Goa is India’s party central, so much so that it is sometimes hailed as the Las Vegas of India! And while I have enjoyed some of the wildest parties here, there is so much more to the place than just that. Most tourists feel their trip to India is incomplete without visiting North Goa and its picturesque surroundings. A true Goan experience entails a tour of its throbbing beaches, spice farms, cashew plantations, churches, cathedrals, forts and caves, and lakes and mountains. And on your trip to Goa, the one place that you must visit is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. The name “Bom Jesus” means “Good Jesus” or “Infant Jesus,” and it houses the tomb of St. Francis Xavier. With more than 400 years, it is one of the oldest churches in the world and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

At the core of the Christian faith lies the gospel, which teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Basilica of Bom Jesus stands as a testament to this belief, providing a place of worship and contemplation for followers of the Christian faith. It is a sanctuary where individuals can find solace, seek spiritual guidance, and strengthen their relationship with the Lord. One of the most remarkable things about the Basilica of Bom Jesus is its Golden Rose Plant, conferred by Pope Pius XII in 1953. This prestigious honor sets the church apart, making it a truly unique destination. The statue of the Infant Jesus, situated in the front of the church, adds to the spiritual ambiance and invites visitors to reflect and find solace. Before exploring the Grand Goan church, do you want to know more about it in person? Well, then keep reading!

Architecture of the Basilica of Bom Jesus

© Wikimedia Commons/ Sumchamp

The foundation stone of the Basilica of Bom Jesus was laid in 1594, and the construction of the majestic structure was finally completed after a decade in 1605. On the 15th of May 1605, Archbishop Rev. Fr. Alexio de Menezes consecrated the Bom Jesus church after its completion. In 1946, the church was elevated to the status of a “minor Basilica”. The Roman Catholic Basilica is one of India's finest instances of Baroque architecture, and the Mosaico-Corinthian architectural style inspires its interiors. And you do not need to be a connoisseur of art to be captivated by the stunning beauty of the gorgeous church. Even if you don’t know anything about any architectural style, the intricate craftsmanship on the monument will fascinate you. What sets this Bom Jesus church apart from the rest across Goa is the non-plastered look of its exterior façade. The Basilica's exterior is breathtaking, with intricate architectural details and a sense of grandeur that captures the imagination. The bare look of the laterite stones adds a unique touch to the magnificent structure. Bom Jesus Basilica had a plastered exterior until a Portuguese conservationist stripped it off in 1970. The latter look of the monument plays a role in preserving the carvings on the façade and makes it more beautiful. 

© Flickr/ Aruna Radhakrishnan

The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a monument that boasts a marble mosaic floor, basalt pillars, and extensive use of gemstones. The palatial structure houses one sacristy, two chapels, and an incredible, ornate gilded altar well-decorated with precious stones. While the entire edifice is adorned with impressive carvings, paintings, statues, and cenotaphs, the golden altar casts a spell on visitors such as me! The main altar of the Basilica of Bom Jesus is a sacred space where the holy trinity is celebrated. It is a place of devotion and reverence, adorned with exquisite sculptures and intricate carvings that depict various biblical scenes. Look out for the art gallery housed inside the church complex. The modern art gallery is the largest of its kind in the entire continent of Asia and is home to remarkable Italian paintings that date back to the 1970s. These artworks, created by renowned artists such as Dom Martin, are masterpieces that showcase the rich artistic heritage of Goa. The two largest and most famous paintings depicting some events in the Bible at this art gallery are ‘Genesis’ and ‘The Last Judgement’. If you ask me, it will be wise of you to opt for a guided tour of the India Basilica. You can hire freelance tour guides for as less as INR 150 to help you take you around the Goa Basilica.

Home to the sacred relics of Saint Francis Xavier

Every year, thousands of people from around the globe visit the church to witness the mummy of none other than St. Francis Xavier, the saint with miraculous powers for healing and the founder of the Society of Jesus. The professed house within the church complex serves as a reminder of the spiritual legacy of the Jesuit order to which St. Francis Xavier belonged.  died of fever on December 3, 1552, while on his way to China, and initially, his body was taken to Portugal. It was only in 1554 that his body was sent to Goa. Giovanni Batista Foggini assembled St Francis Xavier’s mausoleum, and Placido Ramponi assembled it in Goa. The mortal remains of the Saint are kept inside a silver casket in the chapel on the southern side of the church. The silver casket is adorned with relief carvings depicting tales from the life of the Saint. The three-tiered bier on which the casket rests was a gift from Medicis, Cosimo III, the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. 

© pxhere/ arun_tyrent

Christian worshippers believe that St. Xavier, the patron saint introduced the religion of Christianity and salvation to Indians. The church organizes a grand exposition of the Saint’s mummy on December 3 every 10 years. The last decennial exposition happened in 2014; the next one is due in 2024. There is also an annual feast in the Saint’s honour on December 3, followed by a Novena of 9 days. During the Novena prayer, worshippers have a spiritual belief that they will get healed through Jesus Christ.  This is the busiest time of the year at the church as open-air masses and various festivities keep the spirits of the visitors high. 

When to visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus

© Flickr/ Bernard Oh

The Basilica of Bom Jesus does not close its gates for a single day in a year. It remains open for visitors between 9 AM and 6:30 PM from Monday to Saturday and from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM on Sundays. December is the busiest time of the year for the church and all of Goa. So, if you intend to visit Goa anytime in the last month of the year, book hotels in advance to avoid any hassle.

How to visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus

© Wikimedia Commons/ Superfast1111

The church is located at Bainguinim in old Goa, which is only 10 kilometres away from the state capital Panjim. A cab, bike, or moped will get you to the church within half an hour from the Panjim bus stand. The nearest railway station to the church is the Madgaon railway station, from where the church is only 35 kilometres away. This distance can be easily traversed via a bus or a cab, plenty of which are available outside the station. The Dabolim Airport, Goa’s international airport, is located 24 kilometres away from the church, and cabs regularly ply between the two places. The road to the Basilica is often bustling with tourists and locals alike, eager to glimpse its awe-inspiring image.

It's worth to visit the whole Goa, beyond Basilica of Bom Jesus. For example, with this private full-day Goa tour, you get to visit other World Heritage churches like Se Cathedral and St. Cajetan church, and hindu temples around Old Goa, along with the charming Asia's oldest Latin Quarter. The tour also includes a delicious traditional Goan lunch!

Basilica of Bom Jesus: A history of four centuries

© iStock/ natbits

The Basilica of Bom Jesus is home to the sacred relics of several Saints other than St. Francis Xavier. Also, it was India’s first church to become a minor basilica in 1946. Today, it is much more than a religious center. It is a cultural emblem that has made indelible marks in the history of Goa. It is the most visited church along the length and breadth of the state and also the most revered one across the country. You must add the Basilica of Bom Jesus to your Goa itinerary for a comprehensive experience.

But that's not all! Beyond its religious and historical significance, the Basilica of Bom Jesus also serves as a public space for various events and celebrations. It is a popular location for weddings, cultural festivals, and art exhibitions, where the beauty of the church enhances the overall ambiance.

You can easily travel from your base accommodations while exploring the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the surrounding sacred relics. Since Goa has a wide range of hotels and guesthouses, here are the top ones I recommend staying at while you're on this beautiful coast of India. The charming streets and vibrant atmosphere offer something for everyone, whether you're a history enthusiast, an art lover, or simply seeking a glimpse into the past. For those who want to be immersed in a tropical paradise, Botanique Goa is an affordable abode tucked into palm trees. Another accommodation that is only 700 meters away from the beach is the Aaria Hills Hotel, where you can stay in comfort and modernity without having to pay much for a private room. If you're looking to make friends easily, then Woke Morjim is a hostel that is budget friendly as it is sociable!

If you're lucky enough to visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus during a special occasion, such as the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, you will witness the church in all its splendor. The doors of Bom Jesus open wide, welcoming devotees and curious visitors alike to join in the celebrations and experience the vibrant atmosphere of faith and devotion.

So, take advantage of the opportunity to walk through this magnificent structure's doors and soak in its architecture's splendor, the serenity of its interior, and the spiritual ambiance that fills the air. Discover the wonders of the Basilica of Bom Jesus and let its timeless beauty leave an indelible mark on your Goa adventure. We recommend booking your stays in Goa in advance as it can get booked up quickly during certain periods. If you use this link, you pay the same price, and we get a small commission - thanks for your support!

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