Mapusa, in Bardez, is a famous shopping destination, where all kinds of ingredients, necessary for Goan cuisine, are available. But, the city is also famous for the annual feast of Our Lady of Miracles (Nossa Senhora dos Milagres) which is held at the Milagres Church (Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres), in Mapusa, at this time of year. The feast is held on the second Monday after Easter at this church, which is also called St Jerome’s Church.
Both, Catholics as well as many Hindus of Goa worship Our Lady of Miracles. Hindus believe that she (Milagres Saibinn) is the incarnation of goddess Mirabai, who is the sister of goddess Lahirai. The zatra of goddess Lahirai is celebrated with much fervour at Shirgao on the day of Vaishak Shudda Panchami, which occurs at around the same time as the feast of Our Lady of Miracles.
According to popular local folklore, Milagres Saibinn is one of seven sisters, and was converted to Catholicism by the Portuguese. Her sister was also converted, and is the patroness of the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedios at Cansaulim, in Salcete taluka.
Her other sisters are worshipped in temples across Goa, ie Lahirai (at Shirgao), Mhamai (at Mayem), Kelbai (at Mulgao), Monai (at Morjim), Mahalsa (at Mardol). Her last sister Adiadipa gave up her earthly life by committing sati and disappeared. Their brother, Khetko, is worshipped by the fisherfolk community of Chopdem.
Originally known as Nossa Senhora de Todos os Bens (Our Lady of all Blessings), she was believed to be responsible for many miracles, which is why she eventually came to be known as Milagres Saibinn (Our Lady of Miracles).
ABOUT THE CHURCH
St Jerome's Church was built in 1594 by the villagers of Mapusa, Cunchelim and Khorlim. It was rebuilt several times during the next 200 years, and a residence with one storey was also added.
In 1838, on the eve of the feast day, a major fire broke out, believed to have been caused by a candle which was left on the main altar during the night. That year, the feast mass had to celebrated in the newly-built cemetery. The gaunkars of Mapusa, Khorlim and Cunchelim rose to the occasion and the church was eventually rebuilt.
On the feast day, two statues are kept for veneration in the church – one for the oil bath (generally done by Hindus), and the other for flowers, candles and other items (by Catholics). A variety of offerings in the form of candles, oil, money, wax figurines etc are made by devotees, whose prayer requests have been fulfilled.
An interesting tradition that is followed is the exchange of ojem (gifts) by the two sisters – Lahirai and Milagres. Lahirai ‘sends’ a couso of oil to Milagres on the feast day; and Milagres ‘sends’ a basket of flowers (mogrim) during the zatra.
According to some lore, the sisters also visit each other on the day of their respective festivals. In the event that the feast day and zatra are on the same day, the sisters will not be able to visit each other, as a result of which, it is believed that misfortune is sure to follow.
Incidentally, the fire of 1838, when the church was destroyed during the vespers night was a time when, both, the feast and zatra occurred at the same time.