During the season of Lent, the Catholic community in Goa solemnly observes various customs and traditional practices. One of them is the penitential Procession of Saints, which takes place annually at the St Andrew’s Church, Goa Velha, in Tiswadi.
If you visit the village of Goa Velha on the fifth Monday in Lent, you can witness this age-old tradition come to life. It is the place, apart from Rome, where such a tradition takes place. Here’s why this procession of saints takes place in Goa Velha.
Origin of the practice
Goa Velha, formerly known as ‘Govapuri’, was a prosperous village. When the Franciscans Order made its way to the village, in the 17th century, during the colonial rule, they realized the need to instill a sense of penance and prayer in the minds of the local people, due to which, they started the penitential procession of saints. They wanted to inculcate the habit of good deeds and penance, and to use saints of the church as role models.
Initially, when the procession took place, there were around 65 life-sized statues of saints, martyrs, queens and kings, who had dedicated their life to Christianity and the service of God. The life-sized statues were taken out in a procession, and were carried in palanquins on the shoulders of the palanquin bearers, who are generally villagers. By the end of the 19th century, the number of statues had dwindled down to 31.
There was a point when religious orders were suppressed, and that is when the practice of the procession came to halt. During this time, the images and vestments were destroyed. The practice was, however, restarted in the year 1868. Since then, the procession has been held annually, although, it took a break for two years due to the pandemic.
Procession of saints
Even today, crowds of people descend onto Goa Velha on this day, and carry out this tradition with great devotion. It begins with the Eucharistic celebration in the afternoon, after which, the 31 statues are brought out and lined up near the main door of the church. The parish priest narrates a background of the saints, and they are then slowly taken out in a procession on a fixed route before returning to the church. During the procession, people recite the rosary and sing hymns. The procession begins with the charol of the Franciscans Coat of Arms, and is followed by the other saints, carried on the shoulders, generally, by the members of the confraria.
Interestingly, as the procession winds around the village, you will find people walking under each charol, as a way to seek blessings, through the intercession of the saints. Some also seek penance for their sins through this act.
The duration of the is roughly two hours, and the statues are brought back to the Church Square, where the priest gives a sermon. Later, the saints are taken inside the St Andrew’s Church, and are kept there for veneration for a few days.
People from all over Goa, both, Hindus and Christians come to Goa Velha to join in the procession, and it is believed that after Rome, this is the only place in the world where this procession takes place.
(This year the procession will take place after the Holy Mass which will be held at 4.30 pm on April 4, 2022. The statutes will be kept at St Andrew’s Church, Goa Velha for veneration till April 6.)