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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa

He was someone who threw away a life of luxury to embrace poverty. How he rose above it all, attained the kingdom of God, and became a saint, is a long story. But, standing inside the church named for him, I realise that the church seems to have seen just as many highs and lows as him… and survived to tell the tale.

I am at the church of St. Francis of Assisi, at Old Goa, staring up at the magnificent frescoes on the walls, craning my neck for a better look, marvelling at the fact that these paintings have lasted as long as they have, wondering what they would have been like, when the paint was still fresh, and the church filled with the devout.  

Even the ceilings are painted with such intricate patterns!

A figurine of St. Francis with a painting in the background depicting his death

The Church of Francis of Assisi is right opposite the Basilica of Bom Jesus, and most of the tourists come here to see the archaeological museum maintained by the ASI in the convent which adjoins this church. Few enter the church itself, probably because it is just one of the many churches here. But that only makes it a better experience for me – the church is almost empty, and I can enjoy it in peace.

I don't know what else to call it but a balcony.. but look at the detailed work on it!

Noticing the intricate details on the frescoes, it is easy to understand why this is one of the churches under the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Each of these churches have their own USPs. For this one, it is the frescoes and the paintings which draw eyes and awe.

This beautifully painted panel is mounted on the wall, but with no information about all the details it depicts. Wish I knew more about art. 

Almost every inch of the walls and ceiling are decorated… either with floral patterns, Christian art, or telling us the story of Francis of Assisi. After all, it is a story worth the narration.

Paintings depicting the life of St. Francis

More paintings on the other side of the altar, depicting St. Francis' life

Born in 1181/82 to a prosperous silk merchant, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, nicknamed ‘Francesco’ by his father, lived the life of a wealthy young man, even fighting for his country as a soldier. A vision brought him back home, and he soon lost his love for worldly life. Giving up his vast wealth and legacy, he took to begging and founded the Franciscan order which was authorised by Pope Innocent III. His following grew, as did his fame, and in 1224, he received the stigmata, (a term used to describe body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet) making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ's Passion. He died in 1226, and was proclaimed as a saint in 1228. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy. He is also known for the creation of the Christmas creche or Nativity Scene.

An intricate wooden figure of St. Francis, standing on a pedestal, which shows the Stigmata (marks of the Crucifixion of Christ). St. Francis was the first recorded person to bear these marks, and the symbol is regularly used by the Franciscan order. 

The archway at the entrance is covered with paintings

As is the underside of the arch!

Coming back to the church, it was a group of eight Franciscan friars who arrived in Goa in 1517 and obtained permission from the Portuguese Governor to build a small chapel. In 1521, they built a church consecrated to the Holy Ghost, which was later pulled down and the present church was built on the same spot in 1661.

A chapel on one side

Half a century has passed since then, and time, and the abandonment of Old Goa has taken its toll. The paintings are fading (even though they have probably been partly restored), and, unlike at the Basilica, there is no one here to give us an insight into all these beautiful works of art and devotion. However, standing under the majestic dome, feeling small and humble, I can’t help thinking St. Francis would have approved. After all, he left behind grandeur and wealth for poverty and suffering, and his memory still endures. As will the church built in his memory. 

This post was originally published on the Club Mahindra Blog. You can read it here

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  1. What a magnificent Church! I don't think I have ever been to any ancient church.

    1. Yes, Pradeepa. It is really magnificent!!! and we have a thing for anything ancient... they simply never cease to amaze me!

  2. I did visit this Church long back with a tourists mental make up. I got insight today. Thanks.

    1. you are welcome, PNS. Goa is so associated with tourism, and so filled with tourists, that it is easy to get carried away with all the crowd, but we were lucky to find this church empty and peaceful, and really enjoyed it.

  3. I love the murals and art work of this church. Its breathtakingly beautiful. Lovely post, Anu.

    1. Thank you, Niranjan! Its truly a beautiful church!

  4. I have been to Goa many times and have visited the church also but never able to appreciate its beauty unless i read your post. Thanks for sharing....

    Knowing the history and context helps you to enjoy the place more, my learning from your blog.

    1. You are welcome, Rachit. am so glad my blog helps you learn something new :D i am sure the next time you go to Goa, you can enjoy this church as much as i did!

  5. Beautifully captured, Anu! I can sense the peace, love the details!

  6. Awesome post .i hope everybody will like your post

  7. I've been admiring the painting that you indicated has no information whatsoever.. I wish to see it in person,. some time soon. visiting the Church of St. Francis of Assisi is in my bucket list now.

    1. I would love to hear what you think of it, Sofia.... its sad that there is no information available. hope you can visit soon!


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