It has celebrated its bi-centennial anniversary , the ancient ‘Capela de Sao Tome’ (or St. Thomas Chapel) situated in the popular Latin Quarter of the capital city of Goa has still retained its historical grandeur amidst the towering new edifices and multi-storied buildings of this fast developing urban area of Panjim.
Memories are reminiscences of the past that linger on, irrespective of what our fate beckons. Nevertheless, it is to be conveyed that Goa in all of its majesty still cherishes the brighter side of our indomitable past where religion played the important role for which in all of its simplicity unravel the nuances of days gone by which are as yet nonpareil and more so, because religion is as yet the integral part of our charisma which is seconded by world over.
In that sensibility as the feast day of St. Tome (Thomas) which befalls on 5th February is to be celebrated, I recount the intricacies which are part and parcel of the parishioners (ward members) for the people to say that religion in Goa is not as yet dead but thriving exponentially.
The Capela de Sao Tome (St. Tome Chapel) built in 1814 is commemorating its bicentennial anniversary from the time when the hermitage was built by the local masons at the end of Rua 4 de Abril (earlier 31st January Road and presently, Cunha Gonsalves Road) during the gubernatorial regimen of Viceroy Bernardo Jose Maria da Silveira eLorena, Count of Sarzedas. This hermitage was shifted to the present location at Rua de Sao Tome (earlier Rua da Infantaria) blessed to serve religious proclivities of the mankind in the year 1849 during the time of Governor General Jose Ferreira Pestana, to fully be what it is in the year 1961 under the ward-ship of Governor General Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva with a new edifice which was duly supported and sustained by the archdiocese, government, and residents of the ward.
The history of Bairro de Sao Tome with is chapel evokes paramount importance to its residents, to extol to the world about its unique identity irrespective of the diktats of the present government. The Capela de Sao Tome which lies on the main thoroughfare of the city known as Rua D. Joao de Castro and at Estanco de Tabaco (Tobacco Square) next to as yet glamorous General Post Office and Casa de Moeda (Mint House), presently in possession of the Dias family, which bulges in prominence with memories of past, not as yet discerned although multi-faceted and cherishing.
The original hermitage was facing the River Mandovi whereby somewhere in the year 1952, an edifice was constructed harbouring the now defunct Navegacao Fluvial (River Navigation), where from my memories, I recall that on each and very beginning of the New Year, ward members used to pay obeisance to the Lord Almighty for a very prosperous and healthy New Year. Unfortunately, the relevance is lost in the sands of time because the hermitage ceases to exist in the present contemplation.
Panjim’s oldest ward
I hold strong feelings that importance should be ensured on Bairro de Sao Tome from its historical anecdotes acclimatised from past residents long gone. However, from my analytical observations, I express that Bairro de Sao Tome came into the substance much earlier than the much contested Ward of Fontainhas as it was here that the end of Ponte de Linhares (built somewhere in the 17th century) culminated to give rise to hamlets embellishing the pre-contours of the city.
The reason, therefore, the mention of Fontainhas as the oldest ward of Panjim fills me with contempt as it is heresy fostered by some historians without knowledge over the subject in context. Nevertheless, I must express that the Capela de S. Tome and its ward encouraged music, arts, and drama which was prominent with names like Diario de Noite, O Heraldo, and other publications which aggrandised its hallowed portals.
The ward had all the ingredients for a boiling pot-puree with activities duly encouraged by the late chaplains who were then the moving impetus amongst the youth by organising various cultural activities such as theatres, music sessions, and the rest towards fulfilled recreational activities.
During the night, the elders sitting on the neighbour’s Panvdo (steps) or on their own chairs, used to confabulate with each other over the latest gossips, while sans any malice life did go on to remember St. Tome ward and that’s the way, I would like to remember Bairro de Sao Tome which as yet warms the cockles of my heart.