Located in the heart of the capital city of Panjim is the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Igreja da Imaculada Conceição), one of Panjim's most famous landmarks. It is bustling with activity during the first week of December. Novenas and salves are held for nine days before the feast day. They are held in the evenings and a fireworks display follows the religious rites. A fair is held on festive days at the square, which is located at the foot of the church.
DESIGN & HISTORY
The Panjim Church has a Baroque facade, with twin balustraded towers and a high central gable which houses a bell -- an unusually large bell, second only to that of Se Cathedral, in Old Goa. It was not part of this church originally, but was brought from the Augustinian Monastery in Old Goa. It is the second biggest bell in Goa.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim was originally an ermida (ie a small church in an isolated spot), founded before 1541, for seamen, who at the end of a long voyage from Lisbon, made Panjim their first port of call, before proceeding to the city of Goa.
The ermida was affiliated to the parish of Taleigao, of which Panjim was a ward, till the transfer of the capital to Panjim.
In 1600, it was separated from the Taleigao parish and elevated to the status of a parochial church by Archbishop Dom Frei Aleixo de Meneses. About the same time, an asylum was also built there, and later, a college.
In 1619, the successor of Dom Frei Aleixo de Meneses, Dom Frei Cristovao de Sa e Lisboa, ordered the old structure to be demolished and a new and bigger one to be built, instead, on its very foundations.
The new church, like the old ermida, stood on the western slope of the Oiteiro (hill) da Conceicao. Behind it, there was a lighthouse, in the middle of what was known as Bairro dos Pilotos (ward of Pilots).
On the southern side of the church, there was a cemetery, which was abandoned in 1878.
In 1870, the present imposing stairway, modelled on that of the Church of Our Lady of Remedios, in Lamego, Portugal, was built.
INSIDE THE CHURCH
The church is dedicated to Mary Immaculate, Patroness of Panjim, and has four altars, besides the main altar, which is in the Renaissance style. Two marble statues of saints Peter and Paul are seen on the sides of the arch of the main altar. They once belonged to the Royal house of Catechumens.
A beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands on a masonry pedestal on the stairway in front of the church. Its foundation stone was laid by the then Vicar General, J J De Abreu, on October 29, 1904 and marked the golden jubilee of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
There is an image of Our Lady of Fatima in the Bom Jesus altar. The statue was blessed by the Patriarch Dom Jose da Costa Nunes in 1945. It was crowned by the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, Cardinal Gilroy, in 1950. This image is carried in a candle light procession, just as in Portugal every year on October 13.
The crown of this image, made of gold and studded with diamonds, was gifted by the women of the capital, who parted with their ornaments for the purpose.
The old parochial graveyard of Panjim was situated behind the church and disappeared with the creation of the Corte de Oiteiro. It was transfered to the parish of St Inez, where the first burial was that of Jose Messias Gomes da Silva on January 2, 1879.