Lesser known Secrets of The Royal Monastery of Santa Monica Old Goa
Updated: May 15, 2021
The Royal Monastery of Santa Monica OR The Convent of Santa Monica stands tall even on Monte Santo at Old Goa. This structure is lesser heard of but it has survived some of the toughest times in the history of Goa. More than the beauty of the monument, the back story of the people that brought about its making is quite exciting to learn.
St Monica is known as the Patron saint of Mothers and she is also the mother of St Augustine of Hippo. It is very rare to find a mother and a son to both be saints in Roman Catholicism. This connection is even found with religious structures found all over the world. A Santa Monica Monument would be established very close to a St Augustine Monument. Almost opposite. Here at Old Goa, Our Lady of Grace Church commonly known as The Ruins of Augustine Tower can be found across the street from the Monastery. It was first established for the Cloistered Nuns of the Augustinian order in 1627. It is interesting to know that these nuns had a unique lifestyle compared to any of the religious orders. They would make a vow to offer the rest of their life to God and maintain a life of solitude and silence. This means that the nuns would cut off any contact they have with the outside world. No speaking, no listening, no reading and no travelling. Some nuns would take it a step further by not talking to other nuns in the convent too. All their belongings would be offered to the convent to cover expenses. Even now you would find certain orders that follow this lifestyle like the cloistered carmel nuns.
If you had to leave the convent for any purpose such as a medical emergency one had to get special permission from the archbishop. Only after that you would be permitted to leave. In case any of the nuns wanted to let go of this lifestyle the approval had to be taken from the Pope with a valid reason. It was that big of a deal. It was embarrassing to the families of the nuns which was compared to letting your daughter go into prostitution. The cases of people leaving were very rare. If at all the family would want to discuss important matters with a relative that had joined the convent then he/she would have to sit opposite to each other separated by an opaque screen. There would be a turn table which would be used in case some items had to be shared, documents had to be signed etc. There would be no chance for the family to even see the faces of the nuns once they joined the convent.
Why would one take such a harsh change in lifestyle upon themselves you may wonder? Usually the women who would enter the convent would either do it out of a vocation they received, if their husbands went on long voyages and never returned, girls from poor backgrounds or even women who had been abandoned or orphaned at a young age. What they did get in return was education, an opportunity to learn music, cooking, gardening, stitching and several other home skills. Considering it was the 17th century, to be educated was a royal privilege and this was an opportunity for these women. To add to this, they became extremely skilled at all these skills which resulted in beautiful works of art that can be found in the monastery, a courtyard that was filled with medicinal herbs and spices which were used as cures and the legend says that it brought the invention of Goa's most popular dessert, Bebinca. It was a matter of great pride to have your daughter join the nunnery.
There is a story that when Old Goa began to crumble as the capital of the Portuguese colony, there was a plague that hit which caused hundreds of deaths per day. Nobody knew what was happening and some people even set monuments on fire thinking that it would sanitize the place from the cause of the illnesses. However, the monastery was unaffected. The nuns did not come in contact with the outside world. They consumed their own vegetables grown in the gardens, the water came from the wells and they did not interact with people much. They were safe. It is quite an example of how this Monument stood strong and still is in very good condition as it was always inhabited which led to its maintenance. Now a major part of the convent is The Institute of Mater Dei. The chapel popularly called as the chapel of the weeping cross is open to the public for viewing. Another section of the monument is now The Museum of Christian Art.