Religious Architecture


Based on the following books:

  • Pereira, J. (2002). Churches of Goa. (D. Desai, Ed.) New Delhi, Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.
  • Lourenço, J. (2011). The Parish Churches of Goa: A Study of Façade Architecture (Vol. Second edition). Panaji, Goa, India: Broadway Publishing House.

Evolution of church architecture

During the 15th century, a remarkable architectural movement emerged in Europe, subsequently spreading across the globe and becoming the first truly intercontinental style. Known as the Neo-Roman style, it sought to revive the architectural essence of Imperial Rome. Originating in Italy, this style underwent five distinct phases: Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassicism. Its influence extended to Goa in the 16th century, primarily showcasing the Mannerist mode of Neo-Roman. Goa’s churches, Roman in scale, stand as exquisite examples of Neo-Roman architecture in Asia, contributing significantly to Goa’s designation as a world heritage site.

First period :

Early neo-roman style (1510 – 1550)

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Old Goa (1543-1545)

During the initial phase, the European architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance were brought to India, first in Kerala and later in Goa. Goa witnessed the construction of three Gothic churches, with The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary being the only surviving one today.

The Gothic style, prevalent in Western Europe between the 13th and 15th centuries, embraced key elements such as the pointed arch, rib vault, and flying buttress. These components gave rise to slender and towering structures that enclosed spacious interiors. The Portuguese version of Gothic architecture, known as Manueline style after King Manuel I, thrived until the mid-16th century. Manueline designs incorporated naturalistic motifs like trees, flowers, seashells, and maritime themes as decorative elements.

Our Lady of the Rosary stands as a single-naved church featuring a chancel and two side chapels positioned in front and next to the apse. The arches connecting the nave are situated at different heights. Although the nave now has an open tile roof, it originally possessed a ceiling that collapsed in 1897, causing damage to the chapels’ vaults. This incident is documented in a record preserved in the Palace of the Archbishops of Old Goa. The side chapels and chancel are adorned with star-shaped rib vaults, a prominent characteristic of Gothic architecture. On the exterior, the church’s three-story tower-façade catches the eye, boasting cylindrical buttresses in the front corners and cylindrical towers at the nave’s corners. The top floor of the tower-façade exhibits slender columns on the corners and features round-arched window openings that house bells. Additionally, the large twisted ropes wrapped around the tower-façade, abutments, and cylindrical towers exhibit Manueline influences.

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary holds the distinction of being the oldest surviving religious structure in Old Goa, showcasing medieval architectural forms. Beyond the arches and vaults within the chapels, the tower-façade imparts a medieval character to this church.

Among Goa’s churches, Our Lady of the Rosary is perhaps the most representative of Portuguese influence, not only due to its formal characteristics aligning with Manueline architectural culture but also because it originated before the emergence of specifically Goan architectural solutions. Furthermore, it serves as an exemplar of the investment made in religious architecture during the second generation after the city’s conquest. Additionally, it stands as the sole structure in Goa that testifies to the gradual incorporation of Renaissance elements in India, albeit limited to the sculptural design of noteworthy architectural features like the doorways. Given its age and unique historical significance, this church holds immense value as a precious architectural relic within the context of Portuguese expansion.

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Old Goa is oldest surviving church of Goa
Gothic vaults in the church are an feature of the Early Neo-Roman period

SECOND period :

MANNERISM (1550 – 1760)

This period encompasses the emergence and prevalence of Mannerism, which can be divided into two distinct phases. The initial phase marks the maturation of the European style, predominantly influenced by the study of architectural handbooks authored by Italian Mannerists. The subsequent phase signifies the inception of the Indian style, embodied within a church.

In the construction of their churches, Goan architects embraced three different models: the Hall Church, the Greek Cross-Domed Church, and the Diminuted Sanctuary Church.


The features of churches in the first phase of Mannerism are:

  • Hall Church plan
  • Greek Cross – Domed Church
  • Italian church facade

Hall Church Plan: Sé Cathedral, Old Goa

A Hall Church is characterized by its architectural features, including the nave and aisles that have approximately the same height. The aisles are separated from the nave by rows of columns or slender piers and are covered by masonic vaults or wooden roofs. Unlike windows along the sides of the nave, the illumination of the interior is provided solely through openings in the outer walls, creating a subdued and consistent lighting throughout. The design achieves a sense of spaciousness by supporting the arcades of the nave and aisles on slender piers or columns, resulting in multiple diagonal vistas in addition to the central axial view. An example that exemplifies the Hall Church Plan is the Cathedral of Valladolid (1585-1597) in Valladolid, Spain, which was planned by the Spanish Mannerist architect Juan de Herrera. The plan of Sé Cathedral is derived from this architectural concept.

Cathedral of Valladolid, Spain designed by Juan de Herrera
Hall Church plan type of Cathedral of Valladolid
Se Cathedral, Old Goa designed by Julio Simão
Hall Church plan type of Se Cathedral

Greek Cross-Domed Church: Church of St. Cajetan, Old Goa

The Latin Cross-Domed Church differs from the Hall Church due to the inclusion of a clerestory. The clerestory is formed by the rising nave wall, surpassing the height of the aisles and featuring windows that allow additional light to enter the central space of the church. The long arm of the Latin cross represents the nave, while the three shorter arms symbolize the apse and transepts. Positioned above the intersection of the nave and transepts is the dome, which serves as the primary source of illumination within the interior, enhancing the solemnity and grandeur of the sanctuary. The Latin Cross-Domed Church, exemplified by structures like Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, became widely regarded as the ideal model for Catholic churches. The Church of St. Cajetan in Old Goa follows this architectural plan, representing the sole surviving instance of a Greek cross-domed church in Goa. 

Michelangelo’s St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City
Greek Cross Plan type of St Peter’s Basilica
Church of St. Cajetan also called as Nossa Senhora da Divina Providência (Our Lady of Divine Providence)
Greek Cross Plan type of Church of St. Cajetan

Italian Church Facade: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Old Goa

This facade style is based on the church facade for Church of the Gesù (1573-1577) designed by Giacomo Della Porta in Rome. Ruins of the Convent and Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (1612) follows the same Italian facade style.

The Church of the Gesù in Rome
Our lady of Mount Carmel in Old Goa (now in ruins)


The Diminuted Sanctuary Church, resembling the Hindu temple, features a spacious single nave that leads to a smaller, lower, and narrower sanctuary. This architectural style gained popularity in India due to its resemblance to the mandapa and garbhagriha of Hindu temples, making it the most commonly employed church design in the country.

When the Portuguese arrived, the churches in Kerala bore a striking resemblance to Hindu temples. The naves were dominated by the sanctuary tower, reminiscent of temple mandapas and shikharas, and positioned the sanctuary at the end of the nave, much like the placement of the garbhagriha in Hindu temples. Although the temple-like appearance has been discarded, the old church architecture still retains many elements of temple-style design, preserving the temple plan.

Left: Temple shaped silhouette of the altar at Church of St. Cajetan in Old Goa, Right: Kandariya Mahadeva Temple sanctum tower in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

In the Diminuted Sanctuary Church, the entrance to the sanctuary replaced the sanctum doorway found in Hindu temples, featuring an archway that leads to a slightly more open sanctuary compared to the dark and compact garbhagriha. One of the earliest churches built with a diminuted sanctuary was St. Francis in Kochi (originally called Santo Antonio), constructed by the Portuguese in 1551. Numerous churches have since followed the same architectural plan. The Chapel of Santo Antonio (St. Anthony) in Old Goa, built in 1768, stands as India’s only true Rococo building. Thus, the Portuguese of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries adopted the diminuted sanctuary plan, removed the shrine door, and introduced a lighting scheme to evoke a sense of mystery for worshippers. The arch between the nave and altar did not compromise the essential meaning or compactness of the sanctuary but added a note of glory to its enigmatic atmosphere.

St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi, Kerala was constructed by the Portuguese in 1551 has a diminuted sanctuary.
Royal Chapel of St. Anthony in Old Goa built in 1768 has a diminuted sanctuary and is India’s only true Rococo building

The reticulated facade, observed in our case on the church’s front, involves the use of orders, with pilasters or columns crowned by an entablature, to create patterned surfaces on the building. This concept aligns with the Indian aesthetic principles seen in Hindu temples, where monumentality relies on the plan, on the number of bays or chariots (rathas) and in elevation on the subdivision of the temple’s three levels – socle, wall and tower. In Goan churches, the monumentality of the facade is determined by the number of bays in the plan and the number of storeys in the elevation. A modest church structure follows a 3×3 formula (3 bays x 3 stories), while a more ambitious edifice may adopt a 5×3 formula. A 5×5 configuration signifies a highly monumental church. Examples of monumental Goan churches include Our Lady of Piety Church on Divar Island, following the 5×3 structure, and Church of Our Lady of Grace (now destroyed, formerly part of the St. Augustine tower complex) and St. Anne’s in Talaulim, both adhering to the 5×5 formula.

Church of Our Lady of Grace (now destroyed, formerly part of the St. Augustine tower complex) has a 5×5 formula – 5 storeys in elevation
Plan of Church of Our Lady of Grace having 5 bays in plan

During this period, traditional Indian decorative motifs such as pots, lotuses, myrobalans (amalakas), and other nature-derived forms like mythical animals, tropical fruits, and plants were also incorporated into the church designs.

THIRD period :


During this period, a notable departure from the reticulated facade was the introduction of the cupuliform fronton, a flat facade designed to resemble a rounded cupola. In this architectural style, the typical pedimental or gable fronton is replaced by a curved wall on the facade side, taking on a dome-like shape in elevation. The fronton consists of three levels: the drum, calotte, and lantern. Although constructed using solid masonry, this cupuliform structure creates the illusion of a three-dimensional dome. Additional features of this era include planned groin vaults, Solomonic columns – a feature of the Baroque style frquently found in Goan churches. It is a helical column with a spiralled shaft.

Cupuliform fronton consists of three levels: the drum, calotte, and lantern
The Solomonic columns at the altar of Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa

Over time, the Mannerist Neo-Roman style matured and resulted in a few churches in Goa that exhibit the exquisite Indian Baroque aesthetic. Here are five notable Goan monuments that showcase this style:

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa
Holy Spirit Church, Margao
St. Anne’s Church, Talaulim
Our Lady of Piety Church, Divar Island
St. Estevam Church, Juvem



Initially in this period, grand designs of the Neo-Roman churches were applied to other buildings of smaller size, especially smaller chapels. A composite which may be called the Goan Eclectic style combining motifs from previous Neo-Roman and Indo-Islamic style was realised. A lot of features of the Rococo style (which is a later mode of the Neo-Roman) was used decoratively for pulpits and volute on the gables of the facade.


“When one speaks of the Goan temples as an architecture type, one does not refer to all the temples in today’s Goa, but only those temples that are chronologically Goan”. This was written by Amita Kanekar, inspired by Paulo Varela Gomes’ definition of ‘Goan Church’ for the Portuguese-era churches of Goa.

Goa’s temple architecture reflects a diverse range of styles and cultural heterogeneity, influenced by the Portuguese presence in Goa, which spanned over five centuries. This can heavily be seen in Sri Shantadurga Temple at Kavalem.

Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem
Sri Shantadurga Temple, Kavalem around 1900
© Souza & Paul (Central Library Archives)

However, it is important to note that prior to 1510, temples in Goa belonged to various religious formations. Notably, the Sri Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla (Karnataka Dravidian) stands as a remarkable survivor from the 11th century, built during the Kadamba rule, who were vassals of the Chalukyas. In the 16th century, numerous temples were destroyed, including 280 temples over a span of one year in Salcette. The ease and method of their destruction, which involved burning and dismantling, suggest the use of lightweight materials like wood and thatch in their construction. Supporting this notion, 19th century images depict smaller temples adorned with thatched roofs and wooden pillars, further emphasising the prevalence of such light materials.

Temple of Shri Lakhanewhar, Agonda
Temple of Shri Lakhanewhar, Agonda.
Old Wooden structure, protected by an outer shell of concrete.


Goan Temples are a combination of the following:

  • Basic temple layout
  • Sweeping entrance steps
  • Grand doorway in a decorated wall
  • Pillared hall with stout circular pillars holding up an ornate wooden ceiling
  •  Square unventilated garba-kud (Sanctum) fronted by a porch
  • Anteroom (or two)
  • Renaissance Basilican floor plans (Similar to Goan Churches)
  • The larger ‘Typical temple’ often had an ambulatory corridor around it.
  • They were also often seen with prominent side porches resulting in the type of plan that was similar to Renaissance Basilican floor plan.
  • European Renaissance
  • The temples were built in plastered laterite, brightly painted, and picked out with pilasters, cornices, balustrades and window forms.
  • Archways for entrances, windows and niches may be round-headed Renaissance ones, Bijapur ones, or foliated Mughal ones.
  • Bijapur
  • Domes that topped the Sanctum tower
  • Santum Tower – An octagonal tower treated with arched niches and a balustrade railing.
  • Onion shaped arches and Pillars.
  • Lamp Towers – Reminiscent of Goan church towers and corner towers seen in Bijapur architecture.
  • Adilshahi Goan mosque
    • Stepped tank
    • Agrashalas

The combination of these diverse influences and architectural vocabularies, along with mughal architecture and local influences, resulted in the creation of a distinctive architectural style by the late 19th century, extending its influence not only in Goa but also beyond its borders. As a result, the Goan temple emerged as a unique architectural type deserving recognition in its own right. Unfortunately, as temples lack protection under heritage or conservation laws, this type of architectural style is rapidly disappearing. 


  • Traditional Shikara – Traditionally seen in a stepped pyramid form in Dravidian temples, it was replaced by a dome resting on an octogonal base or drum, in Goan temples. It became a feature as early as the Vijayanagar occupation in the 14th CE, and was rarely seen outside Goa.
    • The design of temple towers was influenced to some extent by European architecture, specifically by the churches in Velha Goa, such as the Se Cathedral (1562-1623) and the Church of St. Cajetan (1656-1661). These European structures had an impact on the design of temple towers.
    • The development of temple towers eventually led to the creation of the remarkable double-storeyed tower of the Shantadurga temple, constructed in 1738.
    • The domes of the temple towers were crowned with various finials, influenced by European lanterns or Indian symbols. These included the ‘amalaka‘, a vertically grooved flattened globe representing a fruit, or a spherical pinnacle symbolizing the ‘Kalasha‘, or a combination of the two.
  • The Deepasthamba – The Deepasthamba is a concept that is hardly featured in any other part of India. The Deepasthambha or Dipmal is a lamp tower that transforms into a pillar of light during festivals.
    • Octogonal in plan, it is often split into two levels and is altogether five to seven stories high.
    • It is inspired by Baroque elements and christian iconography, often articulated with dwarf columns at the corner and niches for lamps.
  • Stepped Tank – characterized by its expansive rectangular pool enclosed by laterite walls, the tollem is a temple tank in Goan architecture. It features a series of steps that gracefully descend to the water level. Interestingly, similar tank designs can also be found in the Bijapuri masjids of Ponda, including the Safa and Surla-Tar.
  • Mantaps – In Goan architecture, many of the larger mantaps (pillared halls) differ in their arrangement of pillars compared to temples outside of Goa, such as the Mahadev temple at Tambdi Surla. Instead of a grid pattern, these mantaps feature two rows of pillars, creating a spatial division reminiscent of a church. The division forms a nave and aisles, with the nave being slightly elevated from the aisles and referred to as the chouco.
  • Tulasi – The tulas plant is set in a large planter – resembles the church cruzeiro.

The smaller temples are similar in layout but adopted a simple Goan house form, with thick laterite walls, rounded arches and pitched tiled roofs.


The mid-sixteeth century saw the systematic destruction of temples. A detailed record of all temples that existed in every village was maintained, which showed us that many of the extensilvely dismantled temples were wooden. This salvaged wood was later used to build boats.

The 17th and 18th century was a time of internal disarray and external threat in the Portuguese controlled areas of Goa. Despite this, the two Old conquest districts of Bardez and Salcette saw the reconstruction and building of various churches. At the same time, beyond the Portuguese jurisdiction, rebuilding and reconstruction of Hindu temples began, reaching a climax in the 18th century, continuing onto the 19th and 20th centuries.

The rebuilding and renovating of temples had four distinctive periods:

17th AND 18th CE

During the 16th century, numerous temples saw systematic destruction, with areas like Salcette losing over 280 temples in a year, in 1567. However the the 17th and 18th century witnessed the construction of temples that adhered to traditional Hindu architectural styles. Historical engravings and photographs indicate that substantial renovations and even some rebuilding took place during this time. Temple construction in Goa also showcased a Neo-Romanesque influence, with elements of Western mannerism evident, such as the replacement of pyramidal towers with domes over the sanctuary. These rebuilding efforts and renovations contributed to the development of Goan Temple Architecture.

19th and 20th CE

By the 19th and 20th century, the use of reinforced concrete construction became prominent in temple architecture, particularly in the construction of open halls and expanded agrashalas (community dining halls).

According to Jose Periera, the initial influences on this architectural development were the European Renaissance, primarily through the churches in Goa, as well as the Bijapuri and Mughal architectural styles, brought in through the Marathas. Over time, a fusion of these influences emerged, resulting in temples that resembled grand Goan manor houses by the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

1961 TO 1990

Post the Portuguese rule, there was a burst of temple renovation, expansion and re-building. The happened in two ways:


Mahalaxmi temple, Panaji

  • It was founded in 1818, and rebuilt in 1983.
  • New halls, nagarkhanas and agrashalas were added.
  • Timber roofs, and timber eaves were replaced by RCC ones.
  • Latina tower added.

Shri Mangueshi Temple, Priol

  • Retained some old forms like the basilican plans, arched windows, pitched roofs and Renaissance domes over the Sanctum.
  • Rebuilding in concrete altered things like the roofs, the boxu-window eaves and the agrashalas.

1990s Onwards

The Indianization process that was seen in temple architecture encompassed various intricate elements. One significant aspect was the expansion of front halls, along with an increase in the number of halls and secondary buildings. Additionally, alterations were made to the height of sanctum towers. Material changes included the use of copper sheeting for roofs, silver and gold leaf adornments for pinnacles and internal walls, as well as the introduction of granite and marble flooring. These modifications collectively contributed to the transformation of temple structures, reflecting a blend of cultural influences and aesthetic enhancements.

Shantadurga Fatorpakarin temple at Fatorpa

  • Rebuilding began in 1988-89
  • Kept the Goan manner, but made larger and grander.
  • Monumental scale, pitched roofs, Non goan domes on a tower
  • Multiple attached shrine niches on the walls
  • A giant khambo in the form of a Rajasthani victory towers


Goa has a fairly large population of Muslims, with close to 30 big and small mosques scattered across the state. Some of the important mosques are the Safa Masjid, the Jama Masjid, the Surla Taar Masjid, the Safa Shahouri Masjid and the Namazgah.

Safa Masjid was constructed in 1560 CE by Ibrahim Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur. It is unique in its structure, as it combines both Hindu and Islamic elements of architecture. It is a mosque of great significance and attracts devotees in large numbers—from locals to tourists to historians. Moreover, festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Zuha are observed with great splendour here.

Jama Masjid in south Goa has a dome-shaped centre surrounded by four minarets. The entrance to the mosque has two towers, and the structure underwent renovation work in 1959. While its exterior is simple and stark-looking, the interior is ornate, largely covered in white marble.

Located in Bicholim in north Goa, the Namazgah is perhaps one of the few remaining ‘eidgahs’, or an open-air enclosure meant for prayers. It stands atop a hillock with a panoramic view of the town below, and has survived over two centuries of Portuguese rule—a period marked by religious persecution against non-Catholics. Its architecture combines Turkish and Persian styles; the main structure is square-shaped with arched doorways. Today, however, it is largely accessible only to Muslims during the festival of Eid.

Jain Temples

One of the world’s oldest faiths, Jainism has its roots in India and dates back at least 2,500 years. The liberation from the never-ending cycle of reincarnation—and the attainment of the all-knowing state known as moksha — are the two spiritual pursuits of Jainism. According to Jainism, the ideal path towards enlightenment is via non-violence and minimising harm to all living beings, including plants and animals. In the past, Goa had Jain trading communities residing in places like Bandoda, Kudne, Kothambi and Narve. During the Portuguese reign, these communities ceased to exist.

Today, the remains of structures built in the 10th century can be found in Cudnem, Narve and the Jain basti in Bandora, Ponda. The Kadamba rulers were patrons of Jainism, and doled out land grants to make bastis at various places. The Shri Dharamnath Jain Shwetambar Mandir in Succoro is a newer structure, built in the 17th century, and is maintained by a family living there.


The Sikh faith was established by Guru Nanak Dev in northern India in the 15th century. Goa is home to a small population of Sikhs, concentrated mainly in Mormugao and Panaji. Their association with Goa goes back to the time when a few Sikh troops arrived in the state to assist with Goa’s liberation from the Portuguese stronghold. The few gurudwaras in Goa are open to the public; there are no restrictions on entry, and people of all religions are welcome here. The kar seva and kirtan programmes and the langar (a meal that is free of cost) are available to all its visitors on Sundays, and are characteristics of gurudwaras worldwide. They are representations of the Sikhs’ belief in an inclusive society, one that is free of racism or sexism or any other kind of prejudice.

One of the more popular gurudwaras in Goa, the Shri Guru Singh Gurudwara is located in Betim, a few kilometres from Panaji, which opened to the public in December 1986. The gurdwara sees a significant gathering every year on the occasions of Baisakhi and Guruparab. In November 2022, the road alongside the gurdwara was named after the religious site, as ‘Gurudwara Sahib Road’.

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