Prologue : We had read about this Augustine tower and seen the locales in Bollywood movies, i was just wonder where to locate this monument. Once we went through the guide book we located it is situated in Old Goa, but where exactly was the point. We kept enquiring and landed into another ancient Church St Marys and from the hillock we were able to pin point the exact location of Augustine tower. And rest they say it is history. The lovely ruins is now preserved by ASI as part of world heritage conservation.
This spectacular Augustine Church was built in 1602 as an extension for a small convent on the holy hill. The Friars of Augustine arrived in Old Goa in 1572 and built a convent consisting of three storeys, with staircases leading to the upper storeys. They were basically a small prayer room and an infirmary and guest house for the priests to reside.
Augustine Church : The Augustine Church was built as extension of the Chapel which was already existing besides the Church. The 46 meter church with two towers and a citadel was conceived to spread the Augustine order in Goa. The five storeyed building had three entrance archways, the main one was the ceremonial entry.
The church is built out of laterite stone with limestone as the bonding factor. The church consisted of huge vault had hiccups while erecting into the building. It is supposed to have collapsed twice during construction. The architect finally succeeded and to reconfirm he asked his son to stand below the vault when cannon was fired at the same to test the stability of the structure. Finally it passed the litmus test for stability. It was a wonderful engineering marvel considering 46 meters high tower with a huge bell donning the citadel.
There were 5 bays on each side of the tower, four storeys with main hall on the ground floor, two galleries on first and second floor, with well ventilated windows and doorways. The two towers supported the superstructure in the middle. The Main hall is almost 250 feet containing the pedestal for worship in the church. On the side wall individual prayer slots were created for saints.
In 1835 the Augustine Church was abandoned due to expulsion of the religious order from Goa and the Portuguese govt ordered its demolition. In 1846 the main vault of the church collapsed after withstanding for more than 2 century. The Church was now exposed to extreme humidity, rainfall and sunshine, it started decaying. I suspect many of the laterite stone blocks must have been used for construction of other churches in the vicinity such as Mount Mary, Paul’s Chapel etc.
The bell from the tower was taken to Fort Aguada and later it was shifted to Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim in 1871. The church interiors seems to have been decorated with stained glasses and plenty of inscriptions are found on the floor and the side panels of the church.
According to my understanding a great epidemic stuck Old Goa in 1759 in the form form of Plague and Malaria which forced the Capital to be shifted to Panjim with old Adil Shah’s Palace converted as residence of the Viceroy.
The proof of the pudding as they say is eating it and relishing. Similarly my theory of abandonment is strengthened by the fact of ASI discovery plenty of skeletons in their salvage operation of the Augustine Church. During the salvage operation one of the objective was to discover the body of Queen Katherine of Georgia. The queen is supposed to have died as a martyr in 1624 and buried presumably in the St Augustine Church Complex. This chance discovery of burial prompted a Georgrian team in 1998 to visit Goa to locate the body. According to descriptions recorded in historical writings of the era, the queen is supposed to have buried either near the second wind near the main alter or near the south west side of the chapel.
At first the northern side of the main alter, salvaging and recovery operations were carried out. A huge quantity of human bones coupled with fragile skulls were discovered. These bodies were obviously disposed in a hurried manner sparking of speculations and provoking interpretation. Whether they were part of the persecution or inquisition victims or bodies of those who died in the plague. It is possible all these victims were primarily from the epidemic of plague and malaria which struck in 1759. The bodies seems to have been piled up and buried enemas’. In the bargain the mortal remains of Queen Katherine seems to have mingled with the enmasse burial of victims who succumbed to plague. The forensic team had to return empty handed in vain in their quest to identify the body of Queen Katherine.
The Augustine Church was deserted in 1835 and for some time it was used as Charitable institution. The building fell into neglect in due course, because of lack of revenue generation and its abandonment for mass and prayer due to mass burial of plague victims in the church complex. After the collapse of the vault on 8th September 1842, the church was ordered to be demolished and artefacts were shifted to various churches, viceroys residence and fortress at Aguada.
The Portuguese government auctioned off some of the valuable artefact collections to its citizens. The facade and tower totally collapsed in 1931 with final collapse in 1938. The huge foundation circular pillars can now be seen in the lawns of ASI Museum at Old Goa.
ASI Salvage Operations : After the liberation of Goa on 9th Dec 1961, the monuments of Goa fell into hands of ASI which began its systematic cataloguing in 1964. The speed of salvaging picked up pace in the 70’s. When the world leaders arrived at CHOGM meet in 1982, its prominence was highlighted to the world. The preparations for it to be designated as a world heritage monument began as part of entire complex of churches in old goa being selected for world heritage status in 1986.
On war footing the efforts of salvage and recovery operations were undertaken by barricading the entire complex of St Augustine Church. The southern belfry area was first focussed upon where ASI discovered the plan and architectural details of the bell tower. Next area of focus for recovery was the alter which had floral and geometrical designs on the facade. A huge quantity of debris was scientifically cleared with remains of ornamental tiles and octagonal pilasters were recovered. The multi coloured Italian tiles, paintings, with a hint of gold was salvaged.
Several gravestones were found with epitaphs in Portuguese, one of the tombstone is displayed with glass casing protecting the epitaphs currently. The chapels seem to have been decorated with painted wooden panels which were once transfixed on sockets of the walls. Some inscriptions containing the names of the benefactors were also salvaged.
The southern portion o the complex yielded fragments of ceremonial porcelain pots, iron spikes, cross etc. Most of the floor slabs were found missing in this area, which may have been stolen for its antique value or probably vandalised by fortune hunters. The remains of the L shaped corridor decorated with massive pillars were also salvaged.
ASI was able to recover plenty of antiquities which were basically fragments of Chinese pottery, Iron clamps, Italian tiles, tomb stones, etc. Some coins of Portuguese era, Inscriptions and slabs containing INRI, ceramicware from Europe etc were also recovered. The scientific clearance of the convent adjoining the chapel revealed a partition wall with three enterances and a door leading to ante Chamber.
ASI used scaffolding to reinforce the remaining portion of Augustine tower. A systematic effort was made to retain its antiquity but at the same time to strengthen the tower from further collapse. Water proof resins were used to bond the remaining portion of the tower. Thus Augustine Tower complex is a tribute to the stupendous amount of salvage operations carried out by ASI. The glory of the past is retained even though in ruins.
Epilogue : This post was re-edited and posted in lieu of additional information sourced from the ASI catalogue on the world heritage series. The old photograph is courtsey from Goan architecture blogspot. This heritage is locale for many a dance sequence from Gumnam film onwards, Dil Chahta hai, etc.
Ack : Outlook Traveller Guide, ASI World Heritage Series Guide of Old Goa, Goan architecture blogspot and orginal contribution.