Undisputedly one of the most beautiful churches in Goa, this gracious old building stands in Old Goa, northeast of the Se Cathedral. Although the Church was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, it is more commonly known as the Church of St. Cajetan, who was a contemporary of St. Francis Xavier and the founder of the Order of monks called the Theatines.This is probably due to their dedication and the lengths they went to, to get the church built in the first place.
It was built to have architectural similarities with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It also has superb examples of the Corinthian style.
The cupola has, inscribed around it, the following verse in Latin, “Quaerite primum regnum Dei et haec omnia adjicientur vobis” which in English translates to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33)
This church was built by Italian Monks of the Order of Theatines in 1665. It’s crowned with a huge hemispherical dome, on the pattern of the Roman Basilica of St. Peter. However, instead of two cupolas it exhibits two quadrangular towers.The façade exhibits superb examples of Corinthian architecture. Four statues of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John the evangelist and St. Matthew wrought in basalt are niched within it. It also has the words, “Domus mea, domus oration/s” which means, “My House is a House of Prayer” etched boldly across the portal.Within the compound of the church is an even more ancient arch with pillars covered in Hindu carvings. These are believed to the only remaining part of the Palace of Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur.
The interior of this church, whilst also Corinthian, shows Baroque, Rococo and Goan influences in the intricately carved and gilded work. There are eight columns that divide the church into a nave with six vaulted lateral chapels.The main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, the patroness of the church. Underneath the altar there is a crypt with a vault resting on four pillars. There are also six more altars, three on each side of the main one.
Beneath the dome , there is a 22 meters deep well devised by Fr. Francisco Manco , the architect, in order to provide an outlet for the waters oozing out of the subsoil, which had caused the walls to collapse twice.
The church is laid out in the shape of a Greek cross, although it appears oblong from the exterior. The eight columns divide the nave from the chapels on either side, and the four central pillars support the cupola with beautifully carved arches. Inscribed around the cupola is a verse in Latin, which reads “Quaerite primum regnum Dei et haec omnia adjicientur vobis” which in English translates to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). The windows set around the dome, ensure that the church is always well lit.
Below the cupola can be seen a covered well, which was either part of an earlier structure, most likely believed to be a mansion, or strategically placed there by the architect to deal with water seepage from the sub-soil. There is also a crypt which is the final resting place of many of the Theatine friars. Set into a multitude of niches around the vault are carved statues of various saints.
The main altar is profusely carved and backed by a gilded reredos. This reredos is unique in that unlike most of the others seen in Goa, it tapers towards the ceiling and is crowned by a sun. The main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence. There is a statue of the Nossa Senhora de Divina Providencia seated within the reredos holding a host and chalice. At her feet are two angels and the legend “Comedite panem meum, et bibite vinum quod miscui vobis” the English translation of which is “Eat my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you” (Proverbs 9:5)
In addition to the main altar there are six more altars, three on either side. These altars have been profusely carved and gilded in the baroque style with twisted shafts and figures of angels. The three on the left are dedicated to St. Clare, the Holy Family and Our Lady of Piety; whilst those on the right are dedicated to St. Agnes, St John and St. Cajetan. These altars also have painting done on canvas, many of which depict the life of St. Cajetan. The paintings are of the Italian School that was popular at the time.
Another unusual feature of this church is that it has not one, but two sacristies which are located on either side of the main altar. It is also said that the embalmed bodies of the Portuguese Governors were kept here till they could be sent back to Portugal. The church was used for this purpose until 1842.
Built on a much smaller scale than the church the convent is nevertheless an imposing structure. Its closure in 1835 forced sixteen Theatines to leave. It was then used as a residence for the Governors of Goa when they came to Old Goa for religious functions. Later still the gallery of portraits of the Viceroys and Governors was transferred here along with the ‘Museu da India Portuguesa’.Today however, the convent has once again been repurposed and in some part returned to its roots. It now houses the Pope Pius X institute for the Pastoral training of priests.
The story goes that three Italian Theatine monks were sent to India by Pope Urban VIII to spread Christianity in Golconda. Not being allowed to preach there, they came to Goa in 1640 and soon thereafter started the construction of a Hospital on the Monte Santo between the Nunnery of Santa Monica and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. However, as they were foreigners, the Viceroy of Goa stopped the construction and evicted them from Goa in 1645.
Undeterred, the monks made their way to Portugal and petitioned the king himself representing the need for the hospital and asking that they be allowed to build it. King Dom Joao IV was impressed by their dedication and gave them his permission. They returned to Goa and built their hospital in 1650. Later, in 1655, they started building the Church and the convent which was attached to it.
The Theatines are also credited as being the ones who advocated that Holy Communion should be distributed to all Goan Catholics irrespective of their social class or caste. Prior to this Communion was reserved only for the higher classes of Indian Catholics. The Theatines demanded that the Archbishop convene a public conference and put forward many arguments from Scripture to support their convictions.
An unrivalled depiction of beauty and grace, this church is yet another must see on a visit to Old Goa. The atmosphere is one of cool and collected reflection as it watches over its people, witnessing days stretch into years in the vast ocean of time.