Why this Goa village will cheer Croatia
On Sunday, many football-crazy Goans will be glued to television sets to watch young and hungry Croatia take on former champions France in the Fifa final. At least one little village will be firmly on the side of the debutants because of a shared history.
Visitors from Croatia came to Gandaulim, about 4km from Old Goa, sometime in the 16th century. They may have not dwelled there for long, but the restored Church of Sao Braz that they built beside Cumbarjua canal is a reminder of that stay in this small riverside settlement of about 200 inhabitants.
It was quite by chance that The Church of Sao Braz was built at Gandaulim by Croatians who came to Goa in the 16th century. It was restored recently with Croatian help Croatian Indologist Zdravka Matišic discovered a reference to her country’s Goa links while studying Sanskrit in India. Matišic carried out further research in the state’s archives. The grand sight of the Church of Sao Braz — a much smaller version of Sveti Vlaho Church in Dubrovnik, Croatia — silhouetted against a blue sky is said to have filled her with joy. However, she was disappointed to find the riverside entrance to the church, styled like the arch on Dubrovnik harbour, in ruins. The PWD knocked it down to allow vehicles to reach the ferry point at the canal two decades ago.
On April 1, 1999, the first official delegation from Croatia arrived in Gandaulim to explore the Goa-Croatia links of yore. The 15-member parliamentary delegation was accompanied by Croatian ambassador to India Zoran Andric
Historians think the Portuguese may have brought the Croatians to build ships — their expertise in this field was respected — or they may have arrived in the village of Gandaulim, then a teeming suburb of Old Goa, as merchants.
Portuguese writer Gomes Catao in his book refers to apopulation of 12,000 during its glory days. Women from the affluent strata of society here were transported in palanquins by slaves to the Sao Braz church, Gomes writes.
Since 1999, the village has been getting visitors, with the Croats developing an emotional attachment to the place. “Every time a Croatian ship comes to the Mormugao harbour, the sailors come to visit our church,” a villager, Braz Silveira, says. A Croatian pediatrician, Dr Marija Radonic, who came more than a decade ago, went back and collected donations for the church, he adds. “I visited her home two years ago, and she has pictures A statue of St Braz in traditional headgear called ‘mitre’ and holding the crosier adorns the main altar of Gandaulim church. (Right) A smaller version of Dubrovnik Sveti Vlaho (Sao Braz) of our church before and after the restoration,” he says.
Tea Batinic, an art gallery owner in Dubrovnik, donated his paintings to the church after a visit. These were auctioned to fund church repairs.
Last year, a Croatian team visited the village to film a documentary. “We are waiting to see the documentary that records the historical landmarks in our village,” says a resident, Esperance Silveira e Vaz. The rapport between villagers and Croatians has grown over the years. “The relationship with the people of Dubrovnik is very close to my heart, especially after I stayed with them for three days,” Braz Silveira says.