The Portuguese built four seminaries in Goa, only two which survive today. Of these two, on is the famous Rachol Seminary which once housed the Christian Art Museum. The other surviving Seminary is at Pilar, which lies near the village of Goa Velha, where the magnificent Procession of Saints takes place on the Monday of Holy Week.
Set on a small hill just south of the capital city of Panaji, along the National highway NH17 to Margao and Vasco, the Pilar Seminary is worth visiting for its quiet ambience, the small but interesting one-room museum and the spectacular views of the countryside from its location.
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The Capuchin monks founded the Seminary in 1613. They established a centre of learning along with the Church, which was named after Our Lady of Pilar, whose statue they had brought along with them from Spain.
The Seminary flourished until the year 1835, when the Portuguese decided to ban all religious orders in Goa except for the Carmelite Nuns, who managed it from 1858. In 1890, the Missionary Society of St Francis Xavier made the Seminary its headquarters. This order slowly disbanded until in 1936, the Seminary was taken over by the Xavierian League.
The beautiful old Church at the Seminary has an exquisite baroque doorway made out of carved stone. A niche above the doorway holds a statue of St Francis of Assissi and the door has on it a carving of two crossed hands, symbolising Christ and St Francis. The tomb of Fr Agnelo d´Souza, who was the spiritual director of the seminary (1918-27), lies inside.
Around a small garden inside, there are cloisters decorated with seventeenth century frescoes. There is an interesting pictorial depiction of the history of the world, drawn by a missionary in the 1940s and a reredos with Fransiscan saints in the niches.
The new seminary, which opened in 1942 for training of priests to be sent all over India, lies at the top of the hill. There is a small museum, which houses fragments of pottery and temple sculpture excavated from the site including a lion – the Kadamba symbol, Portuguese coins and a beautiful carving of Mary Magdalene done in 1733 by a Goan sculptor. There are also some palm-leaf manuscripts and a copy of the first Marathi translation of the Gospel.
The chapel on the first floor of this building is surrounded by some magnificent stained-glass windows, hardly seen anywhere in Goa. And if you can make it up to the roof terrace which is two floors higher, you are rewarded with some spectacular views of the Zuari river towards Vasco and also of the rice fields and coconut plantations of the Tiswadi taluka.