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The canons and the ‘Xempddechem Pursanv’

Every year on Good Friday, the ‘Xempddechem Pursanv’ is carried out by the Cathedral Chapter at Se Cathedral, Old Goa. NT BUZZ finds out more about the canons, and how this tradition has prevailed for over 500 years


Formation of the canons

Se Cathedral is the considered to be the mother of all churches of Goa. Back then when Goa was elevated with a cathedral, the Cathedral Chapter which is a college of clerics, was formed to advise the bishop and the members of this body were called the ‘canons’.

“The ‘Cathedral Chapter’ in Portuguese was called ‘cabido’ and the members were known as ‘conegos’ back then. Today, they are called ‘canons’. They came into existence with the Cathedral some 500 years back when the Pope in his document ‘Bull’ initiated the idea of having an administrative body to help the bishop oversee the functioning of the parishes,” says president of the Cathedral Chapter, Fr Mario Saturnino Dias.

The canons basically had two-fold functions- to help the bishop with the administrative work, and to pray. Earlier, the canons would spend time in solemn pray for long hours. “Today, the length of the prayer has decreased but back then we had to say the ‘Breviary’ (prayer of the church). This would be recited everyday in the morning, evening and night for over three hours. They would pray for the people and the church,” says Fr Dias.

In case the bishop died or was unwell at some point of time, the Cathedral Chapter was also responsible to take over proceedings. Today, this practice is no longer in existence. After the Vatican took over, the powers of the Cathedral Chapter were suppressed.

Fr Dias also recounts how the Cathedral Chapter looked after the churches of Old Goa, when it was gripped with plague. “Old Goa had a population of around 80,000 but when the city was inflicted with plague several left, but due to their obligation the canons had to stay back and continue praying. They were the ones who maintained most of the churches in Old Goa and looked after them,” he says.

The procession 

If you have witnessed the ‘Xempddechem Pursanv’ that takes place on Good Friday at Old Goa, you will have seen the canons wearing flowing black cloaks with pink capes. The long cloak resembles a tail which in Konkani is called ‘xempd’ and that’s how the procession gets its name, says Fr Alfred Vaz of Se Cathedral.

In the middle of the liturgical service, the rattle of wooden clatter fitted with iron rings announces the procession. The procession starts from the sacristy and then the body of Christ is brought to the altar of Cruz Milagres which is opposite the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. “We perform the service of the Passion of Christ. The whole recounting of how Jesus was made to walk the Calvary and how he suffered and was crucified is recounted by one of the canon. After that we take the body of the Christ for burial. Therefore, we call it the mourning procession,” Fr Dias adds.

Fr Dias further adds that the tradition was different earlier. Previously they would enact the whole way of the cross.

Besides this, every Sunday at 10 a.m. a is mass celebrated by the canons.

Fewer canons

Today there are five canons. Of these three are retired. The only two active ones are Fr Mario Saturnino Dias and Fr Antansio Lobo. “We have written to the bishop to appoint more canons. Let’s see what happens. We have suggested a few names but the decision lies with the Bishop to take the final decision,” says Fr Dias.


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