THE SMALL HAMLET of Rachol occupies the site of an old fortress built by the Bijapur sultans, which was ceded to the Portuguese in 1520. A laterite archway and a dry moat are the only remnants of the bastion – once fortified with 100 cannons – that used to guard the southern borders of the Portuguese territories. The pretty Church of Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snows), in the village, was built in 1576.

Today, Rachol Seminary, built in 1606, is probably the most important of Goa’s seminaries. First established in Margao in 1574, and known as the College of All Saints, the earlier seminary included a hospital, a school for the poor and a printing press. It was relocated here after the Margao institution was destroyed in a Muslim raid in 1579. For generations, this was Goa’s most prestigious educational institution, both for secular and religious studies, offering a seven-year course in theology and philosophy, to prepare young seminarians for the priesthood.Spectacularly located on the summit of a hill, the building has a grand fort-like façade, flanked by imposing watchtowers. The seminary’s vast entrance hall is covered with impressive murals and opens on to a central courtyard, surrounded by cloistered rooms made of solid teak, each one with an adjoining wood-panelled study. The grand staircase is adorned with Hindu sculptures, excavated from the ancient Hindu temple on the site of which the seminary was constructed. This leads to the first floor and the library, which has a rare collection of Latin and Portuguese books, and portraits of Goa’s archbishops.

Attached to the seminary is the Church of St Ignatius Loyola, dedicated to the eponymous saint. It has an ornately carved and gilded altar with a painting of St Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. According to legend, a few bone fragments and a vial of his blood were brought to Rachol in 1782, and are supposedly enshrined near the entrance. The choir stall has delicate murals y, of the founding ion saints of various religious orders. On the first floor balcony is a beautiful 16th-century twosmain pipe-organ from Lisbon.Until mid-2001, Rachol Seminary also housed the renowned Museum of Christian Art, established in 1991 by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Gulbenkian Foundation of Portugal. The entire collection is currently being shifted to the Convent of St Monica in Old Goa  and will be set up in the Chapel of the Weeping Cross, adjacent to the convent. Its impressive collection of 17th- and 18thcentury religious objects includes silver and ivory ornaments, ornate clerical robes, processional crosses and holy water sprinklers. Particularly charming is a portable altar for travelling missionaries, complete with candle stands and a mass kit.

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