The Catholic Church is rich with tradition, history, and sanctuaries that encapsulate the divine in material form. One such example of the Church’s complex tapestry is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India, a venerable monument famous for housing the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier. Through a collection of meticulously researched fun facts, this article aims to shed light on the Basilica and the venerated saint, emphasizing their historical, theological, and cultural significance.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fun Fact 1: The Basilica of Bom Jesus was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, making it the first church in India to receive such an honor.
Declared a World Heritage Site as part of the Churches and Convents of Goa, the Basilica represents a unique blend of Indian and European architectural styles. This fusion exemplifies the enduring cultural exchanges between the two worlds, especially in the realm of spirituality and religion.
The recognition by UNESCO also echoes the universal call of the Church to be a “sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 775). The Basilica stands not merely as a historical monument but as a living testament to the Church’s mission of unity and communion.
St. Francis Xavier’s Incorrupt Body
Fun Fact 2: The Basilica is most famous for housing the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier, a companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola and a co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542. He was instrumental in the spread of Christianity in India, and the East Indies, and even as far as Japan. His incorrupt body was brought back to Goa after his death and has been displayed in the Basilica since 1624.
The phenomenon of incorruptibility is considered a sign of sainthood in Catholic theology. Though not a definitive proof of sanctity, it is nonetheless considered a “charismatic sign,” as Pope Pius XII noted in a 1958 audience. The incorruptibility of St. Francis Xavier’s body serves as a concrete manifestation of holiness and divine favor.
Exposition of the Body
Fun Fact 3: The body of St. Francis Xavier is exposed for veneration every ten years, an event known as “Exposition.”
The first formal exposition was held in 1782. The event attracts millions of pilgrims from around the globe and is a significant moment in the Catholic liturgical calendar, particularly for Indian Catholics.
The practice of venerating saints and their relics finds its foundation in Scripture and Tradition. “We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master,” wrote St. Jerome in the 4th century (Letter to Riparius). The Exposition allows the faithful to express their veneration and to seek the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, aligning with the universal tradition of venerating saints.
The Altar and the Relic
Fun Fact 4: The main altar of the Basilica is dedicated to the Infant Jesus, while St. Francis Xavier’s body is displayed in a glass-sided coffin, placed in a silver casket.
The Basilica’s name, “Bom Jesus,” translates to “Good Jesus” or “Infant Jesus,” and the altar’s dedication to the Infant Jesus dates back to the original construction in 1605. The silver casket, made by Goan silversmiths in the 17th century, showcases the skills and devotion of the local artisans.
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The dual focus on the Infant Jesus and St. Francis Xavier encapsulates the Catholic understanding of the Communion of Saints. As the Catechism states, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 956). The altar serves as a physical representation of the union between Christ and the saints, allowing the faithful to participate in this heavenly communion.
The Feast of St. Francis Xavier
Fun Fact 5: The Feast of St. Francis Xavier, celebrated on December 3rd, is a significant event not only for the Basilica but also for the whole of Goa.
The Feast Day commemorates the death of St. Francis Xavier and has been celebrated with much fervor since the 17th century. It is considered a public holiday in Goa and has a rich tradition of liturgical services, processions, and cultural activities.
Feast days in the Catholic Church are not mere historical commemorations but liturgical celebrations that participate in the divine. According to the Catechism, “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1090). The Feast of St. Francis Xavier serves as an earthly foretaste of the heavenly banquet, uniting the faithful in a communal act of divine worship.
From its UNESCO World Heritage status to the venerable incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier, the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India is a treasure trove of Catholic history, theology, and culture. It encapsulates the universal call of the Church to be a sacrament of unity for all humanity, while also serving as a focal point for the rich traditions of Catholicism in India. Through these “fun facts,” one can glimpse the profound depths of Catholic heritage manifest in this extraordinary sanctuary.
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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.