Goa Inquisition

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An 18th century French sketch showing a man condemned to be burnt alive by the Goa Inquisition. The stake is behind to his left, the punishment sketched on shirt. It was inspired by Charles Dellon's persecution.[1]

The Goa Inquisition was a colonial era Portuguese institution established by the Christian Holy Office between the 16th- and 19th-century to stop and punish heresy against Christianity in South Asia.


  • The papers which comprised the archive of that tribunal were found to be a vast mass. I am informed that in them exist papers relating to all the suits tried by the Holy Office since its inception, and if they are not guarded with all care, therein would be found motives to defame, even falsely, all the families in the state and these would provide occasions to feed the enmities and intrigues which so abound in this country. ... As I am persuade that it is not expedient that they should be seen by any person it appears meet to me that it would be appropriate to burn them.
    • Viceroy of Goa to the King of Portugal. Letter dated December 20, 1812. Antonio Baiao, A Inquisicao de Goa, Lisbon, 1945, Vol. 1. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • Around the territories of the neighbours of Goa, there exist in that island temples in which status of the enemy of the Cross are worshipped and every year their festivals are celebrated. These are attended by many Christians, both Europeans and natives, which is very wrong in that it promotes idolatry. It will be service to God if these temples in the island of Goa are destroyed and in their stead churches with saints are erected, and it is ordered that whosoever desires to live in this island and have house and lands there should become a Christian, and if he does not wish to be one should go out of the island. I assure Your Majesty that there would be no individual who did not turn to the faith of Our Lord Christ, because if exiled from this island he will have no means of livelihood.
  • Every word of theirs was a sentence of death and at their slightest nod were moved to terror the vast populations spread over the Asiatic regions, whose lives fluctuated in their hands, and who, on the most frivolous pretext could be clapped for all time in the deepest dungeon or strangled or offered as food for the flames of the pyre.
    • J.C. Barreto Miranda quoted in Goa and Portugal: Their Cultural Links, 1997, Charles J. Borges, Helmut Feldmann (editors), p 34
  • The Portuguese friars and priests had been destroying Hindu temples in Portugal's Indian possessions for quite some time past. Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque, published from Lisbon in 1915 on the basis of old records, carries a report from Andre Corsali stationed at Cochin in 1515. He writes that an ancient and magnificent temple on the island of Divari had been demolished in 1515 and its sculptures defaced. In 1534 when Goa was made a bishopric many Hindu temples had been destroyed under the new policy described as Rigour of Mercy. A list of 156 temples which had been destroyed in Goa in 1541 is provided in Tomba da Ilha des Goa e das Terras de Salcete e Bardes by Francisco Pais published in 1952, again on the basis of old records. The Hindu leaders of Goa had passed a “voluntary resolution” that the income from lands assigned to these temples could be used for the maintenance of churches and missions. The arrival of a mighty missionary like Xavier gave an added impetus to the campaign. What followed in Goa and other Portuguese possessions in India has been very well documented by Christian historians in India. According to the History of Christianity in India, Vol. 1, 280 Hindu temples were destroyed in Salsette and another 300 in Bardez. The count for temples destroyed in Bassein (Vasai), Bandra, Thana and Bombay are not available. Missionary records, however, refer to many famous Hindu temples being converted into churches at these places. A beautiful Hindu temple in the Elephanta Caves was turned into a chapel. Many temples were pulled or burned down on the islands of Seveon (Butcher's Island) and Neven (Hog Island). Even private temples in Hindu homes were prohibited and “transgressors” were severely punished. The Hindus in these places tried to circumvent the “law” by taking away their images to places outside Portuguese territories or building temples of their Gods in neighbouring lands. The missionaries discovered this “Hindu trick” very soon. The Portuguese authorities promulgated a law that Hindus found financing temples outside or going on pilgrimages to these temples were to be punished with heavy fines including confiscation of property.
    • Quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • The Portuguese in this matter as in others followed the custom of the country: Linschoten recorded that they (Portuguese in Goa) never worked, but employed slaves, who were sold daily in the market like beasts, and della Valle notes that the ‘greatest part’ of people in Goa were slaves.
    • Linschoten , Pietro della Valle, quoted in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar. Quoted in Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 10
  • In 1534 Goa was made a bishopric with authority extending over the entire Far East. Special instructions were issued to the Portuguese Viceroy to root out the infidels. Hindu temples in Goa were destroyed and their property distributed to religious orders (like the Franciscans) in 1540 . The Inquisition was established in 1560.
    • Panikkar, K. M. (1953). Asia and Western dominance, a survey of the Vasco da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498-1945, by K.M. Panikkar. London: G. Allen and Unwin.
  • In the present chapter it is proposed to review in brief various measures taken by the Portuguese rulers in India with the object of converting the natives to Christianity. The measures fall into two broad categories. Firstly, there were those the object of which was to make it difficult for the natives to continue to retain their old religion. The temples and shrines of the Hindus were destroyed and they were forbidden to erect or maintain new ones even outside the Portuguese territories ; practice of Hindu rites and ceremonies such as the marriage ceremony, the ceremony of wearing the sacred thread, ceremony performed at the birth of a child, was banned ; priests and teachers of the Hindus were banished ; Hindus whose presence was considered as undersirable from the point of view of propagation of Christianity were sent into exile; those who remained were deprived of their means of subsistence and ancestral rights in village communities; they were also subjected to various humiliations, indignities and disabilities; “ orphan ” children of the Hindus were snatched away from their families for being baptised ; and men and women were compelled to listen to the preaching of Christian doctrine...
    • Anant Priolkar, The Goa Inquisition [1]
  • In 1560, the year the Inquisition was set up, 13,092 Hindus were forcibly converted. In 1578, the… missionaries pulled down 350 temples and converted 100,000 people.
    • Rao, R.P., Portuguese Rule in Goa, Asia Pub. House (Bombay, 1963). quoted from Lal, K. S. (2012). Indian muslims: Who are they. Chapter 6
  • And, above all, don't let us forget India, the cradle of the human race, or at least of that part of it to which we belong, where first Mohammedans, and then Christians, were most cruelly infuriated against the adherents of the original faith of mankind. The destruction or disfigurement of the ancient temples and idols, a lamentable, mischievous and barbarous act, still bears witness to the monotheistic fury of the Mohammedans, carried on from Mahmud the Ghaznevid of cursed memory down to Aureng Zeb, the fratricide, whom the Portuguese Christians have zealously imitated by destruction of temples and the auto da fe of the inquisition at Goa.
  • At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building materials were in most cases utilised to erect new Christian churches and chapels. Various vice regal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories; the public practice of Hindu rites including marriage rites, was banned; the state took upon itself the task of bringing up the Hindu orphan children; the Hindus were denied certain employments, while the Christians were preferred; it was ensured that the Hindus would not harass those who became Christians, and on the contrary, the Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion.
    • Dr. T. R. de Souza in M. D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p. 17. Quoted in S.R. Goel: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (1996)
  • Since idolatry is so great an offence against God, as is manifest to all, it is just that Your Majesty should not permit it within your territories, and an order should be promulgated in Goa to the effect that in the whole island there should not be any temple public or secret, contravention whereof should entail grave penalties; that no official should make idols in any form, neither of stone, nor of wood, nor of copper nor of any other metal; that no Hindu festival should be publicly celebrated in the whole island,; that Brahmin preachers from the mainland should not gather in the houses of the Hindus; and that persons who are in charge of St. Paul’s should have the power to search the houses of the Brahmins and other Hindus, in case there exist a presumption or suspicion of the existence of idols there.
  • There also took place in this year the destruction of the Hindu temples which existed in the territories of Your Majesty, of which none remains, for the priests of St. Francis also razed out f memory all those which existed in Bardez.

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  1. Gabriel Dellon; Charles Amiel; Anne Lima (1997). L'Inquisition de Goa: la relation de Charles Dellon (1687). Editions Chandeigne. pp. 7–9. ISBN 978-2-906462-28-1.