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Goa | Se Cathedral: The largest church in Asia

Replete with cathedrals and churches featuring traditional Renaissance architecture in Old Goa a.k.a. Velha Go, this is where you will also find what is probably Goa’s most famous attraction, the Basilica of Bom Jesus. After visiting one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the famous 17th century Basilica of Bom Jesus (completed in 1605) which contains the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, we went to visit one of the most ancient and celebrated religious buildings of Goa. Dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, the Se Cathedral Church of Goa is said to be the largest in Asia.

Basilica of Bom Jesus
Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa

The Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina, known as Se Cathedral, is the cathedral of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman and the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies. It is located in Old Goa, India. The word Sé is Portuguese for See. An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

The Se Cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque over the army of Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur, leading to the capture of the city of Goa in 1510. Since the day of the victory happened to be on the feast of Saint Catherine, the cathedral was dedicated to her. St. Catherine of Alexandria holds a special place among the prophetic saints in the church because of her role as philosophical defender of the faith.  She is a Christian saint, who was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the Roman emperor Maxentius. According to her hagiography, she was both a princess and a noted scholar, who became a Christian around the age of 14 and was martyred around the age of 18. She is also the patroness of Christian philosophers besides being the patroness of the City of Old Goa, a.k.a. Velha Goa.

Se Cathedral Goa
This splendid church, Se Cathedral, was constructed in the 16th century by the Portuguese. It displays the majestic grandeur of the Portuguese rule.

The construction of this imposing edifice began in 1562 during the reign of King Dom Sebastião (1557-78) and substantially completed by 1619. The main altars however were not finished until the year 1652. It was consecrated in 1640. The Cathedral was paid for by the Royal Treasury out of the proceeds of the sale of the Crown’s property. Some sources, however, claim that it was built using money from the sale of properties that were impounded by the Portuguese government. The final edifice is bigger than any of the churches in Portugal itself. It took 90 years to complete the construction!

Se Cathedral Goa

Initially, the facade had two towers on either side. But in 1776, the tower on the southern side collapsed. This bell tower was not built again. This gives the structure an exceptional look.

Main altar at Se Cathedral, Goa
Main altar at Se Cathedral, Goa

The main altar is dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria, and there are several old paintings on either side of it. Towering above the main altar is the huge gilded reredos (ornamental screen), its six main panels carved with scenes from the life of St Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. She was beheaded in Alexandria, and among the images here are those showing her awaiting execution and being carried to Mt. Sinai by angels. St. Catherine is depicted here wearing a crown, (denoting her royal Birth), holding a book, (denoting knowledge), and steering a spiked wheel (denoting her martyrdom).

The majesticity and magnanimity of this historic structure draws people from all over the world to this church. UNESCO has declared this a World Heritage Site. The grandeur of the structure reminds us of the time when the Portuguese ruled from Atlantic to the Pacific.

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