04 Jun 2023  |   05:41am IST

Sacred niches adorning the streets of Panjim

Panjim’s Latin Quarter has its own vibe with colourful walls and quirky features that amuse everyone. Walking through the narrow by-lanes of the wards of Sao Tome, Fontainhas and Mala, one is undoubtedly attracted to the hard-to-miss sacred shrines outside homes, that have been well maintained through centuries
Sacred niches adorning the streets of Panjim

Team Café

Goa is known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse religious traditions. It is a place where faith and devotion are deeply ingrained in the lives of its people. The celebration of these feasts, not only serve as religious observances but also as occasions for cultural expression and shared celebrations of faith. The presence of niches dedicated to saints in and around Panjim’s Latin Quarter further highlights the enduring reverence for these beloved figures.

These niches serve as small shrines or alcoves that contain statues of revered saints. They can be found in various locations, including street corners, public squares and residential areas. Each niche is usually dedicated to a specific saint, such as St Francis Xavier, St Anthony, or Mother Mary. The niches provide a main point for devotion and serve as a place for people to express their faith, offer prayers, and seek blessings. They are often beautifully decorated with flowers, candles, and garlands, especially during religious festivals and feast days. The feasts become occasions for shared celebrations of faith, bringing people together to express their devotion and strengthen social bonds.

A short distance from the San Tome Chapel, Dominic Fernandes has beautifully decorated a large niche dedicated to St Anthony. As the ongoing Trezena are being observed, the niche is even more elaborately adorned. St Anthony’s feast which is celebrated on June 13 every year is grand for him and his family. “St Anthony is very miraculously Saint for us, for my family. This is the fourth generation of the family now that is celebrating the Trezena and the Feast. He has always blessed us. Even during the pandemic, we have always celebrated the feast. Every year, the whole ward gets together and each day is given to people to conduct the Trezena. We have a traditional celebration with musicians and mementoes are given. We also serve grams, Pulav, Xacuti,” says Dominic. People of different faiths in the neighbourhood also contribute by giving flowers and candles. His daughter, Sherly Fernandes, adds that only for the St Anthony’s Feast it’s called Trezena, whereas other feasts it’s called Novena which is fervently praying for over nine Tuesdays.

Antonieta Jorge, talks about how they celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Valankanni. “The whole ward gets together to say the Rosary and the Novena is for nine days and on the ninth day, we have the litany”, she says. With a sense of pride and reverence, Antonieta reflects on the longstanding tradition of celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Valankanni on September 8. She estimates that this momentous occasion has been commemorated for more than 50 years. This impressive milestone underscores the deep-rooted faith and commitment of the community, as they continue to honour and venerate their beloved Lady of Valankanni year after year.

Natasha Abreu warmly shares her family’s connection to the statue of Our Lady of Grace that stands proudly outside her house. “This is an old house and we recently renovated it. We are originally from Isidorio Baptista Road and we belong to the Church of Our Lady of Grace in South Goa, so we named our house. ‘Casa de Graca Abreu,” she says. Natasha’s words convey the deep connection her family shares with their beloved statue of Our Lady of Grace and their strong ties to their hometown. Moreover, they shed light on the wider significance of the Feast of Our Lady of Grace in the south of Goa, where it serves as an occasion for profound spiritual reflection, cultural expression, and a shared celebration of faith.

Heta Pandit expresses her view about the niches in and around Panjim. A lot of the niches are dedicated to Our Lady and some particular to St Anthony, the patron saint of lost articles, lost causes and mental illnesses. “You really cannot tell. They might be as old as the house itself or they could have been added later as a thanksgiving for a boon granted. Of course, they must have been built by the family that owned and built the house,” she says. She explains, “In Sao Tome, Fontainhas, Mala and Portais for example, the early settlers were almost all builders and craftspeople. That explains the presence of the chapel dedicated to the patron saint of builders in the ward next to the Post Office. So, it is most likely that the builders built their

own homes.”

Speaking about the history of the niches, she says, “The shrines and altars are cleaned and decorated on a regular basis, not just for feasts. The saints in the niches are venerated every day, not just by the families but also by passersby, students on their way to an exam or anyone on their way for an important meeting or appointment. What is most interesting is that these shrines and altars are on the exteriors of the houses and therefore open to worship by all people of all faiths. For us in Goa, St Anthony holds a special place. Almost every Goan church, chapel and home has a figurine of St Anthony. I know of non-Christian families that turn to the Saint for help in their hour of need or if they have lost something precious.”

Whether it is a local resident offering a quick prayer while passing by or a visitor taking a moment to admire the beauty and significance of these niches, they play an integral role in shaping the identity of Goa as a place of faith and cultural expression.


Iddhar Udhar