THE MUSEUM OF Christian Art has been recently been upgraded and is now a truly excellent display of Christian religious artefacts. It is housed in part of the convent of Santa Monica on Holy Hill in Old Goa. The convent Church was built in the early 17th century.
On arrival at the outside (south side) of the church, I spotted a bas-relief carved in stone above the main entrance to the church. It depicts an example of a heraldic creature that has long fascinated me: a double-headed eagle.
Inside the church, we met Natasha, who is the curator of the museum. I asked her if she knew about the reason for the double-headed eagle on the church. She informed us that the convent had been an Augustinian establishment, and that the double-headed eagle is a symbol used by that Order. That was news to me. She also directed me to another depiction of this creature on a carved tablet set into the church’s north wall.
When I returned to our lodging in Panjim, I consulted the internet, and learned about the connection between the Augustinian Order and the bird with two heads. It appears that although the main emblem of the Augustinians was a heart pierced with two arrow, the Hapsburgs allowed this Order to use their emblem, the double-headed eagle.
It will be recalled that there was a significant linkage of the Habsburgs and Spain. And Spain ruled Portugal between about 1580 and 1640. The Convent of Santa Monica was constructed between 1606 and 1627, and that was during the time that Portugal, which colonised Goa, was united with Spain. During that period, the united countries were ruled by Habsburg kings.
Although the museum, which I will describe later, was well worth the visit, discovering yet another example of the use of the double-headed eagle was a great thrill for me.