In Margao church, an astronomical secret

The Margao church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit.


Astronomy enthusiasts, physicists, teachers and students who gathered at the Margao church were enthralled at the heavenly light that shone over the altar at sunset on Mar 21, the vernal equinox.

At 6.15pm, beams of sunlight entered the three windows on the upper level of the church’s front façade. While the light beams that entered through the side windows lit up the left and right-side altars bearing the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Sacred Heart of Mary respectively, a beam of sunlight shone through the central oculus window and flowed towards the central altar, illuminating the emblem of a dove in brilliance.

The key to the mystery of the astronomically-influenced design of the church was revealed at this moment. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. The Margao church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit.

For almost 3-4 minutes, the spellbinding spectacle was witnessed as the three altars lit up in heavenly light. As one’s eye falls onto the dove, beneath it is a scene depicting Mary and the apostles of Jesus, gathered in a room and marvelling at the sight unfolding above them. The entire episode captures the moment of the Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles.

Astronomy enthusiast Bhushan Verlekar said that the Margao church was probably designed to help determine the day of the equinox.

Verlekar, member of the Association of Friends of Astronomy, Margao chapter, was instrumental in spreading public awareness of the equinox occurrence, along with Margao-based photographer Lynn Barreto Miranda.

“We both witnessed it in March 2016. After photographing and recording it on video, we spread the word through social media. Last year, just two of us witnessed it. This year, the church was packed,” said Barreto Miranda.

Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas, 77, who has documented church history in Goa, said, “The construction of the church can be attributed to the wisdom of the Jesuits.”

Parish priest Fr Avinash Rebelo said that the present church building is 350 years old. “Holy Spirit parish is 450 years old, and this is the fifth edition of the church building, which is 350 years old. Not just this church, but, the architects of all old churches in Goa took care of important aspects like acoustics and natural lighting,” he said.

Responsible for the “rediscovery” of Margao church’s astronomical secret is Sarvesh Sinai Borkar, an archaeo-astronomy enthusiast from Margao, who carried out a study of all 15th and 16th century churches in Goa. “I found that the Margao church had a perfect east-west alignment and its ocular window on the front façade could allow light to enter the church at a particular angle,” Borkar explained the phenomena that occurs twice a year, on both the equinox days.

Source: Times of India

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