• Clyde Tellis

Biggest Church Feast in Goa and How Old Goa got its Name?

Why is Old Goa called so? Even though it is a small area and is still part of the state of Goa why is it called 'Old'? This question must have boggled your mind some time or the other when you heard the name. This part of Goa lies on one bank of the Mandovi which is why it was a location perfect for trade. The Adil Shahi Dynasty first identified the spot and was treated as the second capital after Bijapur. Once the Portuguese took over, they annexed it completely and became their capital for several decades until the plague forced them to move to Panjim aka Nova Goa. To differentiate the regions, this place came known to be called Old Goa aka Velha Goa in Portuguese. The name has stood strong along with the beautiful architecture that the Portuguese left behind.


There are numerous churches in Goa but there is one that has the biggest feast. So much so that it is almost a public holiday due to the fact that Goans from all over pay their visits to Old Goa. Now the question is what sets this Feast apart from the rest? Francis Xavier of Assisi was a Jesuit priest who came to Goa as a missionary to preach and spread Christianity. Primarily to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers, this movement then became the reason for the worst massacre in Goa. THE PORTUGUESE INQUISITION. In short people were given a choice to be Christian or be Killed. As a result, people fled at the time and settled along the West coast right up to Mangalore. This is why Konkani is found spoken along the coast. Although the Christian movement was successful, the method of implementation was nothing less than brutal. As a result, his role has been big in the Christian conversions in Goa. He is also referred to as 'Goencho Saib' as he is also believed to be the protector of Goa. Hence the feast is celebrated in his Memory.


The miracle that attracts tourists throughout is that the Body of St Francis Xavier hasn't corrupted over the years. It has retained most of the features even though there wasn't any embalming that was performed. Scientific tests have proven this fact. Flesh can still be observed over the bones. The body is on display in the Basilica of Bom Jesus for the tourists to see. Every 10 years the body is brought down during the feast for the devotees. The next time would be in the year 2024.


altar at old goa during st francis xavier feast
Special Altar made for the Feast

The feast spans across 12 days where masses are celebrated in various languages throughout the day with a few hours break in the afternoon. People flood into old Goa from far and near in thousands and traffic is blocked and diverted through the heart of the city. Special arrangements are made in the Basilica of Bom Jesus to accommodate the devotees outside. A big altar is built on a platform where the feast masses are celebrated by guest priests from around the country. After the church visit, the bulk of the public move on to the local fair set up close to the church. The multiple shops and stalls put up on the roads make the area unrecognizable to how the location looks normally.

popcorn cotton candy chaats at old goa feast
Mandatory snacks at the Fair

groundnuts and sweets sold on roadside
Abundance of Sweets and Nuts

The fair is an attraction to locals for goods at dirt cheap prices. Families for that matter return with loads of stuff ranging from utensils, clothes, shoes, toys and many more. Couples on the other hand take this opportunity to go out and enjoy their time holding hands amidst the bustling shoppers. There would be sweets, nuts, clothes, kitchen items, plastic-ware and toys if I have to name the variety. It is just an experience to dive into the mass of busy buyers and sellers yelling out their prices inviting and negotiating on a deal. Apart from this there is a small patch of land where there are recreational rides. Long queues along with running engines and screams of excitement would sum up the atmosphere of this section.


old goa feast crowd at gandhi circle in old goa
Comparison of Gandhi Circle during the feast and on a Normal day.

crowd during old goa feast
Another comparison


In case you do wish to shop here remember that the best choice for clothes and shoes are on the first few days whereas the best prices for any of the stuff is during the last few days. Towards the end of the fair which would be 2-3 days after December 3rd, the vendors want to clear off their goods so they give a cheaper rate. This would save them the transport cost on returning to goods back.


Some things to remember:

  1. Quality of shoes and slippers are the worst ever! Don't expect them to past more than a few weeks on daily use.

  2. Try out the fun rides as they aren't available elsewhere in Goa. These sort of rides are temporary and this fair is the best opportunity to try it out.

  3. Park your vehicles in spots that would not permit other vehicles to park behind them. I've personally observed terrible parking sense and it could end up in scratches and damages in the mess.

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