|View of the former Archbishop's Palace, Old Goa|
Located between the Church of St. Francis of Assissi and the Se Cathedral, lies the monument of the Archiepiscopal Palace of Old Goa. Though simple and chaste in design, its historical significance cannot be ignored. The Palace finds mention in the volumes of two very celebrated travelers, Pyrard, who visited Goa in 1608 and Dr. Gamelli Careri, whose travels took him to Goa in 1695.
The two-storeyed edifice completed circa 1608 has a length of 230 feet and its extreme breadth is 108 feet. It was in this Palace that the Members or Canons of the Goa Cathedral Chapter, established by Pope Clement VII in 1533, gathered together. The Goa Cathedral Chapter was originally instituted as a Council to the Archbishop. The Goa Cathedral Chapter in the absence or death of the Archbishop, elected amongst its members a Vicar Capitular, to whom the governing of the diocese was entrusted. It also promoted divine worship.
Dr. José Nicolau da Fonseca, in his book, An Historical and Archaeological Sketch of the City of Goa, first published in 1878, has this to say about the Palace: ‘Some of its upper apartments are spacious and cheerful, while those on the ground floor wear a somber and melancholy aspect. It was in one of the former (upper floor rooms) that the Archbishops used to be entertained with the same sumptuousness as the Viceroys…’ Dr. Gamelli Careri also testifies to its magnificence and spaciousness.
As further informed by Dr. Fonseca, the courtyard in front of the Palace was thronged by many men, some for business and others who came to pay their respects to the Archbishop. The Archbishop was accompanied by mounted noblemen and ecclesiastical personalities, whenever he went out of the Palace to any part of the City. They were attended to by their personal lackeys and pages. Attached to the Palace is a chapel, which was used by the Archbishop.
Speaking of the apartments on the ground and first floor, Dr. Fonseca said thus: ‘All the apartments above are unfurnished and uninhabited, with the exception of the ground floor, which is occupied by the curate. In one of the corridors are hung the portraits of all the Archbishops, many of whom had in former times resided there.’
The Archbishops continued to stay in the Palace till 1695 when, owing to an epidemic that was raging the City then, they relocated to the suburbs of the City. Some of the prelates, however, resided in the Palace, but it was for a short span of time.
Although the Palace was saved from the ravages of time, it fell prey to human neglect. But recent attempts by the Diocese of Goa and Daman to conserve the Palace, the oldest Western style civil building in India, has borne fruits. The conservation effort has led UNESCO to recently award the Archiepiscopal Palace the Asia Pacific Award for culture heritage conservation.
The conservation of the Old Archbishop’s Palace by the Diocese and its subsequent recognition by UNESCO is laudable. Such awards should only prompt the Diocese to restore, conserve, renovate and maintain the numerous churches, chapels and monuments in Goa without sacrificing them at the altar of short-sighted planning and policies.
(A Version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: January 7, 2009)