• Clyde Tellis

Difference between a Chapel and a Church

Goa has been influenced by the Portuguese for 451 years. The Goa we see now was not the boundary that was completely within their rule. It happened in stages. Old Goa was the capital at the time and it was under the Portuguese for the whole period. Whereas places like Pernem or Sanguem came under them much later. The religious monuments also followed the same trend. The number of monuments is higher in places where the Portuguese ruled longer and the other villages that were taken over later do not have the same intensity of influence.

Chapel in Goa. Baga Chapel
Fishermans Cross Chapel in Baga beside the Creek

When in Goa, you would see a number of crosses and shrines by the road of various sizes. One might begin to wonder why there are so many of them? The answer is that whenever there would be a mishap, accident, death, or a nasty incident, a cross would be erected to sanctify the place. It is a common practice to pray and have the litany at a cross. If at all the cross/shrine did answer the prayers of the people, they would put together funds to renovate and increase the size of the structure. As years go by and the miracles increase, the renovation would be of a larger scale and a chapel would be erected in the name of the cross/saint. It is not the only way how chapels come into being. At times, due to large distances between villages and churches, Chapels would be erected to help convenience the people for their rituals and ceremonies. It would save them from traveling far in harsh weather and late nights in case there was a ceremony that needed to be performed. However, there are cases where a chapel has been converted to a church after the village grew in population and development.

Major Characteristics

Church: Has its own Cemetary, is a parish, has a parish priest, priests residence would be within the property, the weekly mass will be celebrated regularly, Size is usually Larger. Each village/City has just one church. In rare cases, it would be two.

Chapel: No Cemetary, there is a Chaplain who takes care but may not be a priest, open only for special occasions or feasts, size is smaller, It is not a parish. Several chapels can be there in a village.

It might get quite confusing visually but it is quite interesting to note that the chapels are of various sizes and are located in less crowded areas. My personal observation is that several chapels in Goa at present in remote locations too like the top of hills, on islands, in forts, etc which means the view is quite something. Churches would be located centrally in the village usually very close to the market and village center. If you are looking for some of the best scenic spots in Goa, you could go on a chapel hunt and explore some of Goa's best.

Things to note:

  1. Churches and Chapels in Goa are usually shut throughout the day. They open only when mass is celebrated or if there is an occasion or a feast

  2. Churches in popular tourist areas such as Old Goa are open during the day for visitors.

  3. Do remember to dress decently, cover your shoulders, feet and be respectful when visiting places of worship.

  4. Locals do not appreciate it when you click pictures with weird poses with a religious structure in the background.