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The Convent and Fortress of Cabo, Dona Paula

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Among the few highly admired places in Goa, is definitely the official residence of the First Citizen – The Governor of Goa; also known popularly as the ‘Palacio do Cabo’ during Portuguese era, or presently the Raj Bhavan. During the Portuguese administration, it was officially called as ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo’.

Situated about 7 kilometres from the capital city Panaji and set at the mouths’ of two mighty lifelines of Goa – River Mandovi and River Zuari, while facing the Arabian Sea, it may be considered as one of the best official residences of any governor of an Indian state.

After 57 years of liberated Goa, it was the positive initiative of the present Governor Mridula Sinha, which opened the high security portals of this magnificent campus of Raj Bhavan, to the public.

Citizens and visitors can now visit the entire Raj Bhavan campus, except the inner areas around the residential bungalow, through guided ‘Raj Bhavan (Goa) Darshan’ tours, held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in two slots of an hour and half each. These tours are a joint initiative of Raj Bhavan – Goa, the Department of Tourism, and the Goa Tourism Development Corporation Limited. Visitors can register themselves, minimum three days earlier, through the website of the Raj Bhavan – Goa.

This spectacular precinct has many interesting stories of its development and existence. The entire forested area, from its gate till the end of the promontory, has a thick green cover of deciduous trees and seasonal shrubs, which allows a wide variety of flora and fauna to thrive in peace.

As earlier records state, this point being very strategically located, there may have been a small vigilance outpost, much prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510, to keep an eye on friendly and non-friendly sea vessels, arriving or anchoring at the mouths of the two rivers.

It is to be noted, since time immemorial, that Mormugao, Dona Paula Bay, Navshem Cove, Siridao and Goa Velha (Gopakapattan) in River Zuari; as well as the River Mandovi were preferred natural ports, for foreign ships that traversed to their destinations across the globe, for trade or just for replenishments of food and water.

After the Portuguese sailed into River Mandovi on November 24, 1510, they decisively laid an anchor on these lands on November 25, 1510; and remained here for 451 years, till December 19, 1961.

Initially the Portuguese laid a claim over three talukas – Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete, which included Mormugao (the Old Conquests). It was only about 278 years later that the new, present day boundaries of Goa were drafted, when Portuguese took over, or were ceded, the lands of Canacona, Quepem, Ponda, Sattari, Bicholim, and Pernem. Having laid claim over such huge domains, the need to fortify these borders, as well as the very route through which they entered Goa, became a priority.

Hence, along with the construction of Reis Magos Fort (1554), they constructed the Fortress of Gaspar Dias (1597-1627) and Fort Aguada (1604-1612). A need was also felt to fortify this promontory and such a proposal was put forth by the then 8th Governor of Portuguese Goa D Estevao da Gama in 1540, but it did not fructify immediately.

However, in pursuance of the planning envisaged by Vicar General Fr Miguel Vaz, for enhancement of evangelisation in Tiswadi Island a small chapel was constructed a year later and dedicated to Virgem Nossa Senhora de Cabo or Our Virgin Lady of the Cape, primarily to serve as a landmark for the passing ships.

It was only in 1591 that the then Viceroy D Matias de Albuquerque, and a protector of the Reformed Franciscans (Recollects) took interest in this chapel. In fact it was he who took the initiative to seek the permission of the then Archbishop of Goa and construct a chapel ‘at his own cost’.

He then handed over this chapel, built in Baroque architecture, to the Franciscans for their use, with a condition that the chapel would be handed over to the Archdiocese, in case the Franciscans moved out. The chapel feast is celebrated annually on August 15.

On February 5, 1594, the then Archbishop and acting Governor, D Andre de Santa Maria O P M, laid the foundation stone of a convent building to be constructed attached to this chapel. Constructed within six months, it was inaugurated on July 14, 1594 to coincide with the feast of Saint Boaventura. The first floor, of the residential area of Raj Bhavan that we now see, was added in 1612. Initially this convent served as a ‘Novitiate House’ for the Franciscans.

When we take the Raj Bhavan tour, today we can see a lot of huge, deep laterite craters and pits or quarries, strewn at various locations of the precincts. It was from here that the stones were quarried, to construct the convent, and later a fortification. Today these quarries serve as water harvesting pits. There is a similar pit close to the Raj Bhavan, below and behind the office complex, which has been covered and acts as a water cistern.

This pit collected and accumulated the rain water that ran off its sloping roof, and was directed to the cisterns, with a capacity to hold 2, 50, 000 litres of water, through water channels. This accumulated water was used for the Cabo Gardens and could even be used for fire-fighting, in exigencies.

The Franciscans led a secluded life and initially in 1595 there were only four residents. This number increased to 15 in 1635 and to 20 in 1713. They lived on frugal means and on alms given by the seafarers, who anchored in the bay, and from the parishioners of the nearby village.

These Franciscans were strict in their abstinence vows and never ate meat. It is said that in case a friar fell ill, needing to consume meats for recuperation on medical advice, he was sent out of the convent, preferably to the infirmary of St Francis of Assisi Friary at Old Goa, via a canoe which berthed at the jetty of the Cabo. Visitors, on the Raj Bhavan (Goa) Darshan tour, can walk down and view the scenic beauty from this jetty.

Due to policies issued from Portugal in 1835, the Order of the Franciscans, along with all other orders of the Christian faith, were suppressed and asked to leave this colony immediately. This house was then looked after by a lone friar.

To the south of the chapel, accessed by a flight of steps is the Grotto of St Paulina, after whom it is surmised that Dona Paula was named, where we see a statue of the saint in reclining position. She was the widow of a Roman senator in 347 AD who followed St Jerome to Bethlehem, along with her daughter and vowed her life to austerity. Her feast is celebrated on August 2.

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