The blessing of the Aguada sand bar

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

In the last article, we looked at the unique festival of Narali Purnima, celebrated by the Hindu kinfolk, especially the fishing community. This festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shravan (August 2, 2020). As informed, the fishing community celebrates it by decorating their localities and canoes, repairing their nets, etc, as well as preparing many ethnic sweets in their homes.

This festivity of expressing respect to the seas is also seen in the Catholic fishing community. In Goa there are many places where such religious festivities are held; however the one held on the Aguada Plateau, atop the Sinquerim Village, across the River Mandovi, in North Goa, is worth a visit. A visit here on the morning of August 10, every year, can be a double delight for a visitor, topped with a visit to the majestic Aguada upper fort, overlooking the expanse of the Arabian Sea.

Immediately after one starts the climb on the ascent slope from Sinquerim creek area and takes a right turn, to reach the upper fort, one can see an artistic ecclesiastical structure to the left about 100 metres from the ‘T’ intersection; and a children’s park to the left. This ecclesiastical structure is the famous Church of St Lawrence, the patron saint of sea farers.

This beautiful church, built in a mannerist, Neo-Roman style, is also known as the ‘Church of Linhares’, as it was ordered to be built by the then Viceroy of Portuguese Goa (1629-1635) Miguel de Noronha, Conde de Linhares or Count of Linhares. He died in Goa in June 1639 AD. This Count was very progressive during his administration and is credited with having conceptualised into reality, the longest causeway in Asia in 1634 AD (3,026 metres) built by Jesuit priests, connecting Ribandar Village to mainland Panaji.

This Church dedicated to St Lawrence or Sao Lourenco was built in 1630 AD, overlooking the Aguada Bay, and was under the control of the Candolim Parish. In 1636 AD, it was handed over to the priests of the Franciscan Order. However, in 1688 AD, this church was separated from Candolim and elevated to a dedicated parish church. But due to administrative reforms, the Franciscans had to leave the church in 1776 AD. Presently the Church is being run by the priests of the Capuchin Order. The monument of St Lawrence was established in 1963 and the church feast is celebrated on August 10, every year.

The fort being a kilometre from this Church, in all possibility the Church, was constructed for the spiritual requirements of the soldiers deputed at the fort. To the north of this Church, across the road and to the west of the Children’s Park, when you peak over the compound wall, you get to see the tomb of a German sailor Ernst Truper, 2nd Officer of M S Ehrenfels, the famous German ship sunk in the Mormugao Harbour in March 1943, by British commandos in an attack carried out under code name ‘Operation Long Shanks’. A movie was filmed in Goa around this, titled ‘Sea Wolves’.

St Lawrence Church has a huge masonry open foyer, under a canopy in front of it. In the open foyer, there are about four traditionally Goan masonry seats called as ‘soppes’.

The entire top of the compound wall, encircling this church, has beautiful statuettes of winged angels, decorating it. The internal upper walls, of the foyer have five designs, in relief, depicting scenes in the life of St Lawrence. A carved granite motif/ crest, along with a plaque, are seen on the outer wall of the foyer with writing, but is difficult to read, due to layers of white lime coat paint. The roof frontage shows two turrets, which may have housed the bells.

The most beautiful architectural aspect of this Church is the small cute pergola or gazebo, having four-five steps and overlooking the Aguada Bay. This gazebo plays a very major role on August 10. On this day, the entire congregation led by the main celebrant priest, proceeds from the Church after the feast High Mass, carrying the pennants and other religious paraphernalia and heads for the gazebo. The huge compound of the Church has many temporary traditional stalls selling steaming hot gram, salted peanuts, kadio-bodio (‘khaje’) and toys.

In earlier days, it was informed that the fishing community in the hamlets of Sinquerim, Candolim, Nerul and neighbouring villages would row their boats, rampons and canoes in hundreds, to the Aguada Bay, just below this hillock, and would wait the arrival of the priest in the gazebo. At the end of the procession, the priest would enter the gazebo and bless the sea-going vessels. As per the natural cycle of monsoons, the softening of currents and calming of the sea was ideal to proceed out to sea for fishing. This feast was also a professed ritual to declare the dilution and disappearance of the Aguada sand bar, thereby opening the channels for ships to move out to sea.

The gazebo is worth a visit. It is shaped as an octagon, having a grilled lower part and a high roof held up with six pillars. What is really interesting to observe here, affixed on one of the pillars, is a realistically carved marble book, informing the reader that the gazebo for the traditional Blessing of the Aguada Barra (Sand Bar) was donated by a person name Canta Ramanata Naique – a Hindu person. This displays the harmonious interaction of the local communities, irrespective of religious beliefs.

Whenever you visit this Church, please maintain decorum as required whenever you visit a religious

house.