This tower, also on the Holy Hill, has four storeys with an arch in each. It is built of laterite and evidence of lime plaster is visible. Colossal in size, nearly 46 m high, this tower was meant to serve as a belfry and formed part of the facade of the Church of St. Augustine, which was facing west. The church is now in ruins. There were eight richly adorned chapels and four altars, and a convent with numerous cells and artistic columns attached to the church.
The tower and the church itself, were built in 1602 by the Augustinian friars who arrived in Goa in 1587. With the religious suppression in 1835, the Augustinians deserted the church and fix convent. The latter used for some time by the charitable institution of the Misericordia. The buildings fell into neglect resulting in the collapse of the vault on September 1842.
The Government appropriated the property, selling the materials the following year. The façade and half of the tower fell in 1931 and some more parts of it collapsed in 1938.
ASI’s Circle conducted conservation work in the St. Augustine Church complex. The crevices found in the exposed walls, pillars and pilasters ere consolidated. Water-tightening was also carried out on the exposed walls of the adjacent convent.
For the first time in recent years, the scaffolding was erected on the tower. The sunken basalt stone slabs of the floor were removed and concrete was laid to refix the slabs to their original place. The nave, side altar and main altar portions of the church consisted of stone flooring.
Due to contraction of soil, these stones were subjected to a downward thrust and had started breaking. To avoid further damage, these stones after proper documentation were removed and refixed after providing a firm Concrete bed and sand soling. The missing portions of the stones have been laid with concrete matching with the existing one. The exposed portion of the side altars have been water-tightened with cement concrete mixed with water-proofing compound and finally applied with a silicon base coating.
The part of the collapsed northern bell tower, 46m in height, has thick vegetation that damaged the structure. The laterite stone blocks were also damaged due to the ravages of weather. The weathered stones have been replaced with stones of similar sizes.
The four sided have been replastered with a combination of lime-mortar after raking out and filling joints by using acrylic resin as a bonding material. The laterite stone railing of the bell tower was also strengthened, replastered and retained to its original shape.
With the objective of exposing the sixteenth century St. Augustine Church complex, excavations were conducted in the southern belfry, the chapels on the left side and the main altar at the extreme western end by ASI’s Mini Circle.
In the southern belfry, the removal of huge quantities of debris exposed the plan and architectural details of the bell tower.
The architectural details of the five chapels to the left revealed vaulted roofs made of dressed laterite blocks fixed with lime-mortar. The walls were limes-plastered and decorated with floral and geometrical designs in red and blue.
At the main altar, a huge quantity of debris was removed from the entrance of the shrine and the remains of an ornamental entrance flanked by octagonal pilasters exposed. The side walls of the shrine and the pilasters are decorated with beautiful multi-coloured Italian tiles and paintings with red and blue tints, and some with a hint of gold. Excavation on the right side of the main altar yielded two high pedestals built on a longitudinal platform provided with steps of dressed basaltic slabs.
Also exposed were the raised platforms of different dimensions in each chapel. Some of them were veneered with ornamental basaltic stone slabs with geometrical and floral designs, originally painted with red ochre. Several decorated grave stones were also found with epitaphs in Portuguese. The interiors of the chapel are profusely decorated with beautiful floral designs in stucco as well as paintings in red ochre on a white background.
The chapels have vaulted roofs decorated with ribbed borders. The holes on the walls suggest that carved and painted wooden panels were once fixed in these sockets. Some of the chapels also contain inscriptions in Portuguese denoting the names of benefactors.
The clearance of debris from the southern belfry exposed a rectangular, south-facing chapel, and a platform measuring 3.45 m x 1.50 m x 1.50 m, provided with three steps in laterite with bevelled edges. The excavation also yielded pieces of a ceremonial porcelain pot and some iron spikes.
The digging was mainly focussed on two areas — the first lay on the northern side on the outskirts of the main altar and was selected to search for the mortal remains of Queen Katherine of Georgia. The second included the southeastern outlying part of the main church abutting the southern belfry.
At the first site, north of the main altar, six quadrants were taken up. Within the quadrants a huge quantity of human bones and a couple of fragile skulls were found. These bones seem to have been thrown in a haphazard way. This, coupled with the surprising fact that such a small burial (8 m x 7 m) could yield such a huge quantity of bones provokes many interpretations.
It is possible that this secondary burial played havoc with the mortal remains of Queen Katherine which remain as elusive as before. Beyond the southern belfry, as many as sixteen quadrants of 4.25m x 4.25m each, were taken up for digging. The depth of the excavated trenches ranged between three to four metres.
Here, a huge entrance hall (8m x 8m) to the south of the belfry was uncovered. The exposed laterite walls are plastered with lime-mortar and decorated with paintings in red ochre depicting beautiful floral and geometrical designs From this hall, a wide door and a high window on the western wall gave access to the adjacent corridor of the convent, which stretches on the west. Most of the floor slabs are missing. Further, from the projected buttressed lane in the belfry, a colossal doorway Situated in the north-east corner of the convental portion opens to an entry into the Corridor of the convent with decorated massive pillars ar regular intervals have been exposed.
Beyond the passage, a bevelled edge of decorated basaltic stones makes a distinction between the working level of the passage and that of the rectangular open courtyard, probably meant for gardening. The passage of the corridor is paved with dressed laterite slabs. The northern and eastern interior walls in the L-shaped corridor are plastered with lime-mortar, and repeated coatings of li e-wash, which can be seen in the exposed chunks of plaster on these walls. Note the stucco crosses pierced by nails and painted in red ochre that are arranged at regular intervals in a well-defined frame. These are traditionally known as the fourteen stations of the last journey of Christ, bearing the of the cross, This area also yielded a large number of glazed tiles and blue and white Chinese pottery assignable to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries AD.
In the middle of the courtyard of the convent, a water cistern (4.25m x 4.25 m) was noticed. Built in laterite stone and lime mortar, the cistern has a flight of steps in the north-west corner and a water fetching base slab made of basalt in the southern edge. Further, excavation was taken up in St. Augustine Church to ascertain the layout pattern of buildings, architectural members and its ancillary parts. Parts of the northwestern, southeastern and southern verandah, excluding a small portion, were taken up for excavation.
The excavation exposed the remains of a sunken water tank in the middle of the courtyard (5.62 m x 4.25 m). The tank was provided with a raised platform (0.80 m) which might have been used by the inmates of the convent. The quadrangle(34.40 m x 26.05m) had a beautiful garden, which evoked unstinted admiration from travellers who came to Old Goa. The walls and the pillars were found to have been plastered with repeated coats of lime-mortar.
The southern half of the sacristy was further excavated, revealing two vaulted rooms. The first vaulted chamber had a tunnel, from which a number of unidentified human bones were discovered.
The excavation also exposed a side quadrangle measuring 8.10 m x 8m. On the western part are two tanks for holy water; they are made of fine basalt and decorated with shell designs. The quadrangle also contained a triangular pediment.
During the course of excavation, a staircase (2.70m x 10.90 m) leading to the upper floor of the church was discovered where a number of dormitories were exposed. A door from the side quadrangle led to another room (8 in x 4.30 m) the exact nature of winch could not be determined. Important antiquities like Chinese pottery, iron nails, rectangular bricks, etc., were also collected from the site. Adjacent to a staircase after removing debris to a depth of m, a part of a room, measuring 2.70 m x 10.9 m, was exposed.
The proximity of this room to the main altar and the entrance linking it with the main church points to the possibility of the hall being used as a sacristy. The important antiquities found from the site include Chinese pottery and iron nails. The southern half of the sacristy further which exposed a big hall measuring 15.95m x 7.80m x 4m.
Two arches measuring 3.20 m x 1.50 m x 0.62 m were also exposed. The key-stone of the first arch was found in a broken state. The other was closed at a later stage by laterite blocks. This closure appears to have followed the banning of the religious orders including Augustinians, by the Portuguese government in 1835. After the enforcement of the ban, a charitable institution, the Santa Casa de Misericordia, was shifted here and many additions and alterations took place during their period of occupation.
There was further exposure of four windows, two each on the eastern and western sides, the top of which have now collapsed. In the centre of the southern wail, an altar measuring 2.40 in X 1.42 m x ().491T1 was found.
A door leading to the inner chamber was also exposed on the south-west corner of the southern wall, measuring 2.05 m x 0.98 m x 2 m. Not far from it was found a niche on the western wall at the south-west corner. In the corner of the same hail, a depression was also noticed. Important antiquities like Chinese pottery, iron clamps, Italian tiles, etc., were also collected during the clearance.
In the right wing of the convent area of St. Augustine, a hall with seating arrangements on either side was found. The excavated area probably was a chapel within the convent for use by monks. A circular stone with a radius of 15 cm was found fixed in situ, where probably the pictures were kept on a pedestal.
Other antiquities discovered included a brick with an inscription reading ‘INRF, two coins of Portuguese origin, Chinese ceramicware and tiles of different colours. While clearing debris from the chapel, a stone bench made of basalt laid on either end of the paved floor was found extending north towards the altar. Separate stone seats built into the wall were also found extending towards the north. More Chinese ceramicware and two Portuguese coins were also found.
The scientific clearance in the convent, adjoining the chapel, revealed a partition wall dividing it into two. A small raised platform in the eastern wall on the southwestern corner was exposed. The inner partition was found to be laid with blue and white ceramic tiles. Only a few of them could be exposed in situ. The chapel in the convent was found to be a rectangular hall three entrances (east, west and south)and a door leading to the antechamber. The antechamber was attached to this hall with an entrance door. The chapel and the convent were provided with vaulted windows on the eastern and western walls. The walls of the chapel with the antechamber and the adjoining room were fully lime-plastered. Traces of ochre colour in mural paintings were noticed apart from a few sherds of inscribed Chinese porcelain.
During the conservation work carried out by ASI’s Mini Circle, on one of the side altars of the St. Augustine Church complex, a burial chamber was discovered below the floor in front at the altar. The chamber had a flight of five steps and was built of laterite blocks. It was also plastered in lime-mortar and had a vaulted roof. Inside the chamber, was a grave pit, which contained bones in three places. The pit was also found to be lime-plastered.
The chance discovery of the burial assumes a greater significance in the light of the fact that during the last quarter of 1998, a Georgian team visited Goa in order to search for and locate the mortal remains of the Georgian Queen, St. Catevan. The Queen, who died a martyr in 1624, was buried in Goa, presumably in the St. Augustine Church complex. According to the description given in the records, the mortal remains were supposed to have been buried either above the second window near the main altar or between the side chapels on the south-west side in the transept. However the search did not yield any mortal remains. A detailed study of the present discovery of the grave along with the mortal remains is likely to throw more light on this matter.
Content sourced from asigoacircle.gov.in