This beautifully pristine white church is situated in the popular tourist mecca of Calangute a mere hop, skip and jump away from Calangute beach, that most well-known of all Goa’s many beaches. The church, which has stood guard over the village since the late 1500’s provides an oasis of calm within the hustle and bustle of the village.
One of the popular sites of the village and a great place to visit for lovers of architecture and design, the church should figure on everyone’s list of ‘things to do in Calangute’.
It is the only church in Goa that can boast of a ‘cupola falsa’ of the Indian style of architecture.
The church as it stands today is the third church to be built in the village of Calangute. Previously, the Franciscan monks had made a simple cottage on the seashore, thatched with palm leaves to serve as their church in 1576. They added on a cemetery and constructed a more permanent structure in 1595. The current church was built in 1741 by the Catholic community of Calangute.
The church is built in the Mannerist Neo-Roman style and is famous for its pristine white façade, made distinctive by its domed towers and cupola falsa constructed in the Indian style of architecture. Read more +
Shortly after the colonization of the Bardez Taluka by the Portuguese, the Franciscan friars arrived to start their missionary work with the peoples. They built a small shack of thatched palm leaves on the seashore to serve as their chapel and place of worship in 1576. This was the first church to ever be built in Calangute.
In 1595, this rather temporary structure was replaced and added to when the monks built a cemetery nearby and built a more permanent church structure with the help of donations from the village people. The vestiges of these ancient structures are no more but the place is commemorated with a cross that was erected here after the current church was built.
The church, as it stands today was built in 1741 with the help of donations by the village communities. The bell towers which flank the façade were erected in 1765. The main sanctuary was rebuilt in 1916 and blessed on the 16th of July in the same year.
The church was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Guadaloupe and later, after being entrusted to the diocesan community in 1765, rededicated to St. Alex. It is also interesting to note that until the 1940’s a procession took place every Good Friday from the current church to the site of the Old Church to commemorate the ancient structure.
This church is a splendid example of 17th century Indo-Portuguese architecture. The façade of St. Alex church, like most other churches in Goa has been painted a brilliant and sparkling white. The twin towers that flank it are uniquely dome shaped, with one tower housing the church bell and other having a niche which contains a statue of Our Lady. The church is also notable for its cupola falsa in the Indian architectural style that nevertheless evokes thoughts of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. A statue of St. Alex, the patron of the church is housed above the main dome.
The interior of the church is in the Rococo style with a gracefully gilded reredos and seven altars. The three main altars are located centrally in the nave with the four others being ranged around the sides of the church.
The main altar is dedicated to St. Alex, which is just below a huge crown most probably depicting that the austere life and humility won him a place in the kingdom of God. It is backed by a magnificent gilded reredos, complete with statues of the angels and the saints. The statue to the right is Saint Anthony, depicted as always with a bible and the Infant Jesus, and the one to the left is St. Francis of Assisi.
The other two centrally located altars are dedicated to the Infant Jesus and Santa Almas. The four altars on the sides are dedicated to Our Lady of the Mount, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
The pulpit was brought here from the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Old Goa has been described by Prof. Jose Pereira as “a palpitation of volutes, cantouches, encincture, canopy, pendants, flounces and tassels, all crested by the figure of the lamb of Apoclypse in the book of Seven Seals - a vision of white-and-gold climaxed by the symbol of an innocent victim god, or of the elegance of the Rococo going up in a flame of mystical flamboyance.”
The story of St. Alex is an interesting one and one which fascinates all those who pay homage to him at shrines that are dedicated to his name. St. Alex was born into the family of a wealthy Roman senator Euphemian, and his wife Aglae in the 5th century.
He learned charity and good works by the example of his parents and learned that acts of charity bring with them rewards in heaven, whilst earthly wealth can lead one astray. Not wanting to lose his way, and inspired by a vision from God, he renounced all his earthly goods and wealth on the night before he was to be married.
He travelled to Edessa in the Far East taking with him as much of his worldly wealth as he could carry and this he gave away to the poor and the marginalized. He continued to live here for 17 years, amongst those begging for alms at the gates of the church which was dedicated to Our Lady. One day, the image of Our Lady spoke to him in front of the masses and proclaimed him to be a Holy Man.
Fearing lest this recognition should make him vainglorious, he returned whence to his homeland, where his father, not recognizing him nevertheless gave him a small place in the household as a beggar. For another 18 years he continued to live amongst his own family in anonymity, bearing the slights and jeers of those who were once his servants.
It was only after his death, that they discovered a note written in his own hand, revealing himself to be their long lost son. His life was marked by many miracles and he is buried in Edessa.
The feast of St. Alex falls on the 22nd of July and is celebrated at the church on the preceding Sunday. Additionally the church also celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on the 11th of February, the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady on the 15th of August, the birthday of Our Lady aka the feast of Our Lady of the Mount on the 8th of September and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December.
All the feast days are preceded by a 9 day Novena while the day itself is commemorated by decorating the church with elaborate buntings and flowers while a fete is held outside with food stalls and community gatherings.
Whether to take a break from the tumultuous noise and constant toing and froing of day to day life, to pay your respects and obsequies, to fulfil your religious obligations, to explore the art and architecture of a bygone era or just to indulge in a period of quiet reflection, the Church of St. Alex provides a welcome to all.