Located in Panaji the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception church is one of the most popular and also one of the oldest chapels in Goa. Built in a Portuguese Baroque style, the church is located on a slight elevation, on a hillock. It is known to house the second largest church bells in Goa. These bells are known to have been removed from the Augustinian ruins of the Church of Our Lady of Grace that existed in Old Goa.
The original construction on this site is believed to have been a chapel, built in 1541, so that sailors could give thanks to God for delivering them safely to Goa and avoiding the perils of the sea, before continuing their journey to Velha Goa.
This chapel was later rebuilt, in 1619, into the church that stands there today. The architecture of the present church is a beautiful blend of the Portuguese-Baroque and Goan styles. The imposing façade is distinctive with its two towers and even taller belfry. It can be seen from a great distance, and is sometimes known as the ‘crown’ of Panaji.
To reach the church, you have to climb 78 steps. This zigzagging double staircase was a later addition, added in 1871 after the land in front of the church was reclaimed, at the same time the pediment and belfry was strengthened in preparation for the installation of the heavy Augustinian bell. The interior of this church is comparatively simple, especially when one compares it to the profusely decorated reredoses and carvings that one sees in the churches in Old Goa. However, the decoration has been skilfully and gracefully executed both on the main altar and on the two sub-altars which flank it.
The main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, known as Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceicao in Portuguese. The altar on the right is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary while the one on the left is dedicated to the Crucifixion of Christ.
The church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception with great pomp and fervour. The celebrations are preceded by a nine day novena to Our Lady. The church is decorated with a profusion of lights and the vaulted ceiling is strung with blue and white flowers which reflect the colour scheme of the church (and of Our Lady).After the feast mass the people go in procession with a brass band and the candle sellers come out in force, to sell their wares to the faithful desirous of making offerings to Our Lady to ask for her intercession. After the procession there is often a firework display while the band continues to play festive mandos and fados. People enjoy themselves, walking amongst the stalls selling miniature statuettes, souvenirs, garments, food and drink, to name just a few.