THE CHURCH OF MAE DE DEUS
The church in Saligão is architecturally striking, and unique among all the other churches in Goa.
It’s the only church with a steeple that stands majestically on a crown of four converging concrete arcs which rise from the four corners of the belfry that caps the tower over the main door of the church. All of the other older churches feature a wide flat facade flanked by two towers at either end in Portugal’s Manueline style of architecture.
The Saligão church was inaugurated in 1873, but is considered to be relatively new when compared with the older ones, many of which go back to the sixteenth century when the Portuguese first occupied Goa and started evangelizing their new territory.
Since the village now had its own church, Saligão became a new parish, and the last to be independent of the Parish of Nagoa that had, at one time, encompassed the villages of Oxel, Siolim, Anjuna, Parra, Assagao, and Saligão. And the villagers dedicated the church to Mãe de Deus (Mother of God) named after a 300-year-old statue that was brought down to Saligão from the abandoned church in the plagueridden village of Daugim.
Legend has it that many attempts were made by other Goan villagers to dislodge the statue from the main altar, with all their attempts ending in failure. But, according to my grandmother, when a group of seven teenagers from Saligão gave it a shot, it miraculously came loose off its base.
One of the seven boys was my granduncle, Monu Couth. He wasfourteen years old at the time, and he and his friends carried the statue on their shoulders all the way to Saligão and placed it in the roadside Chapel of St. Anthony in the ward of Sonarbat on the outskirts of the village. On November 26, 1873, the statue was carried solemnly in procession and placed in a niche on the side altar dedicated to Her to mark the inauguration of the new church.
When I was in my pre-teens, I’d sometimes drop in to say hello to Monu Couth who was around 88 years old at the time. He’d sit in a verandah outside his bedroom and whistle tunes that were popular in his younger days. He had keen eyesight and could read letters without eyeglasses. His daughter who was in her mid-sixties, and who cared for him, would tell me that Monu Couth would never hum a tune; he just loved to whistle. He had made a living as the bandmaster of the Maharajah’s band in Porbunder, Gujarat.
Although I was a very curious kid, it never occurred to me to ask Monu Couth if it was true that the statue of Mãe de Deus miraculously came loose when the boys from Saligão came to take it away.
I suppose that if I did ask him the question, he would probably just wink at me and carry on whistling like a sly Saligão ‘fox’!
Anyway, back to the church of Mãe de Deus. It’s the one single icon that has galvanized everyone with roots in Saligão as one fraternity, wherever in the world they may be.
In Saligão, the feast of Mãe de Deus was always celebrated on the
first Sunday in May – the conclusion of nine preceding evenings of church services, fireworks and outdoor musical entertainment. And the finale of the ceremonial High Mass would be a rousing rendition of the hymn. O Brilhante e a Estrela (O Bright and Shining Star), composed in 1923 by Joaquim António Mascarenhas, an intellectual and accomplished muscician from Abreu Vaddo in Arrarim. The lyrics are in Portuguese and, unlike conventional church music, the melody has the distinct beat of a military march that arouses the kind of patriotism that only a national anthem can inspire.
The night of the feast day, there’d be a huge dance held either at the local clubhouse in the ward of Arrarim or in a makeshift covered ballroom in a dry paddy field, constructed out of bamboo poles and festooned with buntings, palm fronds and colourful lanterns. And the band would usually be Goa’s best – Johnson and his Jolly Boys.
Today, the feast of Mãe de Deus is celebrated by Saligão’s expatriates all over the world on the first Sunday in May. The ceremony starts with a Mass that is followed by a social get-together in a parish hall or any other suitable venue. This is when we reminisce about the ‘good old day’ with stories that enrich the spirit and keep alive our unique heritage.
The statue of Mãe de Deus is less than three feet in height, but it stands tall in the eyes of anyone with a Saligão connection