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Church of Bom Jesus, Goa

Edward Norman on the Eastern promise of Western sainthood to be encountered in the Church of the Bom Jesus in Goa.

The medieval cult of relics embraced the idea that objects placed on or near a venerated body could be, as in life, actually possessed by the dead saint. Thus a ring placed on the finger of a bishop in his coffin, perhaps during an exhumation some centuries after his demise, became 'his' – something of his sanctity was imparted. So also with buildings. St Francis Xavier never saw the Church of the Bom Jesus in Old Goa, which was built between 1594 and 1603, He had died on an island off the China coast in 1552. But the building contains his remains, and it is visited, for that reason, by thousands every year, despite its comparative inaccessibility. It is the shrine not only of St Francis Xavier but of the great Christian attempt, born of the resurgent Catholic energy of the Counter-Reformation, to evangelise the East.

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