Christianity in Goa

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Christianity is the second largest religious grouping in Goa, India. According to the 2011 census, 25% of the population are Christian, while 66% are Hindu.[1] The Christian population is almost entirely Roman Catholic,[2] and Goan Catholics form a significant ethnoreligious group. There is a higher proportion of Christians in Velhas Conquistas than in Novas Conquistas.


(Possibility of) Pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa[edit]

Christianity in Goa has pre-Portuguese roots, according to a few scholars such as H.O. Mascarenhas and Jose Cosme Costa. These roots are probably the same as those of the Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis of Kerala. Christianity, here at this time, was believed to be spread by Saint Thomas and/or Saint Bartholomew who preached in the Malabar and Konkan coasts respectively.


  1. The metallic crucifix found in a wall of a house at Old Goa by Afonso de Albuquerque, a few days after the conquest of Tiswadi in November 1510. A road was later named after this crucifix — “Rua de Crucifixo”. #The document of a gift (doação) on a metallic plate given to a “pagoda” of Goa Velha by a Hindu king in 1391 which speaks of Trinity and divine incarnation, and later produced in the court of the city of Old Goa in 1532.
  2. Ibn Batuta's testimony that in 1342 AD, he found Christian settlements on the banks of the River Agashini (river Zuari).
  3. The Saint Thomas Cross with Pahlavi inscription found by Fr J. Cosme Costa on the banks of the river Zuari.
  4. An article in the Examiner (Bombay) on Pre-Portuguese Christianity which speaks of Thomas crosses on the Hill of Colvale (Bardez) which people would hide in olden days, fearing their destruction by the Portuguese.[3] (This article is probably the same as the interview given by H.O. Mascarenhas, mentioned above.)

Portuguese rule[edit]

Chapel of St. Catherine, built in Old Goa during the Portuguese occupation. It should not be confused with the Cathedral of Santa Catarina, also in Old Goa.

After the Portuguese Conquest of Goa in 1510 and its subsequent rule by Portugal, Goa's indigenous population underwent a large-scale conversion to Christianity.

The state of Goa became the center of Christianisation in the east.[4] The evangelisation activities of Goa was divided in 1555 by the Portuguese viceroy of Goa, Pedro Mascarenhas. He allotted Bardez to the Franciscans, Tiswadi to the Dominicans, and Salcette, together with fifteen southeastern villages of Tiswadi, including Chorão and Divar, to the Jesuits.[5]

After conversion, locals were usually granted Portuguese citizenship.[6] The rapid rise of converts in Goa has been described as mostly the result of Portuguese economic and political control over the Hindus, who were vassals of the Portuguese crown.[7]

The process of Christianisation was simultaneously accompanied by "Lusitanisation", as the Christian converts typically assumed a Portuguese veneer. This was most visible by the discarding of old Hindu names for new Christian Portuguese names. Converts usually adopted the surnames of the Portuguese priest, governor, soldier or layman who stood as godfather for their baptism ceremony. For instance, the Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama lists the new names of some of the prominent ganvkars (Konkani: Freeholders):

Rama Prabhu, the son of Dado Vithal Prabhu from Benaulim, Salcette became Francisco Fernandes, while Mahabal Pai, the son of Nara Pai, became Manuel Fernandes in 1596. Mahabal Kamati of Curtorim became Aleisco Menezes in 1607, while Chandrappa Naik of Gandaulim became António Dias in 1632. In 1595, Vittu Prabhu became Irmao de Diego Soares and the son of Raulu Kamat became Manuel Pinto in Aldona, Bardez. Ram Kamat of Punola became Duarte Lobo in 1601, while Tados Irmaose of Anjuna became João de Souza in 1658.[8]

However, the converted Hindus retained their mother tongue (which in most cases, was Konkani) and caste status, even after becoming Christian. Based on their previous caste affiliations, the new converts were usually lumped into their new respective Catholic castes.[9] The converts from the priestly Brahmin class were Bamonns (Konkani word for Brahmins). All converted Brahmins were lumped into the Christian caste of Bamonn. The converts from the Kshatriya caste who formed the second largest group were Chardos (Konkani word for Kshatriya); and converts from the labour class Shudra which formed the largest group became Sudirs (Konkani word for Shudra).[9]

The Portuguese demolished almost all the temples from the Velhas conquests.The temple art, along with its literature was destroyed, as a part of the Christianisation initiatives by the Portuguese.[10] But these temples and their idols were relocated in other places in Goa, especially in the Novas conquistas.

A typical white Sant Khuris (Holy Cross), of a Goan Catholic family, constructed using olden-style Portuguese architecture.

Goa inquisition[edit]

In 1560, the Inquisition established an office in Goa. It was finally abolished in 1812. It involved persecution of Hindus as well as Christians deemed not compatible with the Latin rite of Christianity. However, it accounted a very poor activity.

Modern times[edit]

Since 1851, the Christian population of Goa has been facing a continual decline. This is caused by an emigration of Goan Catholics from Goa, to other places in India and abroad, as well as, large waves of Hindu immigrants from the rest of India. As a result, the percentage of Christian population (once a majority) has shifted in favour of the Hindus. As per the data available, Christians constituted 64% and Hindus 35% in 1851 census.[11] Currently, Christians constitute 27% and Hindus 66% of the population of Goa.[1]

In 2001, the Goan Konkani New Testament was being re-translated. According to Operation World, the old translation is "little understood today."[2]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman carries the title Patriarch of the East Indies. Old Goa was once called "Rome of the East" and was the capital of the Roman church in the eastern world. The remains of the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier are kept in veneration in the Basílica de Bom Jesus. The Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina is one of the largest church buildings in Asia. The Igreja de São Francisco de Assis, built in 1661, now houses an archaeological museum. Plenty of churches can be seen all over the state with impressive Portuguese-Baroque architecture. Goa used to once be a hotspot for priestly vocations, though that no longer the case. The Goan Catholics still prefer the read Konkani in its Latin script rather than its Devanagiri counterpart, especially during the liturgy.

Other churches[edit]

There is at least one Methodist church in Goa.[12]

Goa is part of the Diocese of Kolhapur of the Church of North India.

There are two Indian Orthodox Churches in Goa coming under the Brahmavar Diocese. Archbishop Alvares Mar Julius was a prominent figure in the church.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Population by religious communities". Census department of India. Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: 21st Century Edition (Paternoster, 2001), 322.
  3. ^ For this whole list, see Eremito Rebello, “Christian Presence in Goa and the Diocese of Goa,” lecture, January 2003.
  4. ^ Conversions and citizenry: Goa under Portugal 1510-1610, Délio de Mendonça, Concept Publishing Company, 2002, p.67
  5. ^ Vide, Meersman, Fr. Achilles, O.F.M. "The Ancient Franciscan Provinces In India, 1971, Bangalore", p.107
  6. ^ Pidgins and Creoles: References survey, John A. Holm, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.286
  7. ^ Conversions and citizenry: Goa under Portugal 1510-1610, Délio de Mendonça, Concept Publishing Company, 2002, p.397
  8. ^ History of the Dakshinatya Saraswats, Venkataraya Narayan Kudva, Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha, 1972, p. 359
  9. ^ a b Land and people of Indian states and union territories, Gopal K. Bhargava, Gopal K.; S. C. Bhatt., p. 39.
  10. ^ Borges, Charles J.; Feldmann, Helmut (1997). Goa and Portugal: their cultural links. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 319(refer page:58). ISBN 978-81-7022-659-8.
  11. ^ Goa Through Ages: An economic history by Teotonio R De Souza
  12. ^ "Churches in Goa including Catholic and Methodist Churches".