The Paulists of Siridão: The College of St. Paul & The Myths of Giants

Picture this: a burly giant trampling down the street of a quaint Goan village, with a musical instrument at his hip and a mountain tied to his back, enveloping everything in his path with the melody of holy hymns. Sounds bizarre? It sure is. Myths of this kind abound about a particular section of society that held sway in large parts of the Goan hinterland during the Portuguese rule. This is the story of how the Paulists of the Colégio do São Paulo came to be immortalized in myths and legends of local folklore.

The Origin of the Paulists

To truly understand the Paulists, a prior understanding of where they came from needs to be achieved. Paulistas was the term used to refer to the Jesuits of the Society of Jesus who took up the task of proliferating the Catholic faith in the Asian colonies of the Portuguese Empire. The word originated as a reference to their headquarters in the East – the College of St. Paul in Old Goa – from where sprung most of their missionary work in the rest of the colonies.

Modern-day Jesuit World of Universities and Schools (2020) | International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU)

Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society of Jesus soon came to dominate the missionary activities in the East. They came from various nations, but brought with them a strict doctrine of industriousness and getting things done by any means possible. This led them to outcompete the other Religious Orders, spearhead the early development of the arts and sciences, and simultaneously accrue a considerable wealth and fortune. Not only did they stick to religious activities in the colonies, but also of the political, scientific and economic kind, leading them to transform the landscape of most if not all the places they missioned across the world – especially in Goa.

The College of St. Paul: From Old to New

The Jesuits were one of the earliest Orders to set themselves up in Goa, where the Viceroy divided the Old Conquests between them, the Franciscans and the Dominicans for the purpose of converting the local populace. They received Salcete and a large portion of Tiswadi, and consequently, their primary base of operations was established in Old Goa – at the College of St. Paul. It originally belonged to the Confraternity of Santa Fé, when it had been a seminary. However, it was given to the Jesuits for the purpose of educating the local youth and from there went on to become a college.

Old St. Paul’s College at Old Goa by John Johnson, 1798 | British Library

And so, in 1543, the college came under control of the Jesuits – and in the following year, St. Francis Xavier took charge of administering the College as the representative of the Jesuits. An adjoining school was built for teaching the youth, and a keen interest was given to learning the written and spoken languages of the Goan natives. Besides this, both foreign and native students were admitted into the college for studies ranging from Latin to music, to rhetoric, philosophy and theology. Soon, this institution housed a staggering three thousand Jesuits, and attracted students from all across the East – from Ethiopia to Malaysia. This would eventually crystallize into making it the predecessor to hundreds of colleges, universities and schools spread all across India and the world.

It’s popularly known that the first-ever printing press was brought to Goa from Portugal, being first operated in none other than the College of St. Paul in September of 1556. However, a lesser-known fact that speaks volumes of the prestige of this college is that the first astronomical use of a telescope in the Indian subcontinent was performed at the new premises of St. Paul’s College atop the Holy Hill by a group of Jesuits in 1618, as well as at the nearby island of Divar and the Rachol Seminary in Salcete.

View of Old Goa looking towards the N.E. showing the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Rozario with a red roof and the New St Paul’s College by John Johnson, 1798 | British Library

In 1560, due to signs of decay, the church was demolished and the foundation of a new church was laid on the 25th of January in the same year, whereupon three large arches were built to support a cracking wall. Despite this, regrettably, it eventually fell into ruin. Due to the plagues and pestilences of Old Goa, the hereafter renamed Old College of St. Paul was gradually abandoned, and the aforementioned New College was built atop the hill of Nossa Senhora de Rozario or Our Lady of Rosary (also called “Holy Hill”), west of the Convent of St. Augustine and south of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Known earlier as the Convent of St. Roche, this new college was truly a sight to behold. It towered above most of the convents that were sprawled across the Holy Hill, inadvertently causing backlash from the nearby Augustinians. Its four storeys would have been visible for miles, overlooking the stretches of the Mandovi. Constructed in the form of a cross, this marvel of architecture served to encapsulate the sheer dominance of the Jesuits, and would be merely one of the numerous reasons for their immortalization.

The Paulist Statues of Siridão: A Needle of Truth in an Ocean of Myth

Now that we have a clearer understanding of who the Paulists were and where they originated from, let’s dive deeper into the actual myths and legends concocted surrounding them.

“Paulist xempddek bandun dongor oddun haddtale”

The Paulists tied the hills to their tails and pulled them across (from Chicalim to Siridão)

Quote from a Local Tiatr in Siridão by Menino Fernandes

One of the most common myths relates to the construction of the Ribandar Causeway or the Ponte Conde de Linhares, which is believed to have been built by the Paulists overnight with the light of a single lamp. However, in reality, this bridge was commissioned by the then Viceroy of Portuguese India – Dom. Miguel de Noronha, the 4th Count of Linhares, but it is a known fact that the Jesuits did provide financial and economic support for its construction.

View of the Mandovi River between the towns of Ribandar and Panjim by John Johnson, 1795 | British Library

Another popular legend is that of the Paulist that tied a mountain to his back and single-handedly built massive churches across the land. Although this feat of superhuman strength is quite clearly impossible, this idea of the Jesuits being able to move mountains is likely a reference to the industriousness of the Jesuits in building massive religious institutions such as the aforementioned four-storey New College of St. Paul and the grand Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Statue of the Paulist with a wind instrument and a dog at his feet, located along the road leading to the Siridão Chapel |
Pantaleão Fernandes

The third, and the namesake of this entire article, are the enigmatic origins of the Paulist statues found across the quaint village of Siridão. Three exquisitely carved statues, whom the locals refer to as Paulists, are found in locations spread across the village – from the road to the Siridão chapel, to the open area behind the Siridão church, to the road running parallel to the iconic Siridão Beach. According to the locals, there once existed a giant man-like creature known as “Paulist” that ravaged the lands.

Statue of the Paulist with a violin and a dog at his feet, located along the road running parallel to the Siridão beach |
Pantaleão Fernandes

Many theories exist to explain the existence of these elusive statues, some say they retain Hindu influence, while others contend that the statues were built by the landlords as guardians to watch over their property. However, owing to the curious fact that these statues are locally known as “Paulists” and the attire and instruments they’ve been shown to carry – the most likely explanation is that these were built to commemorate either a certain group of Paulists that contributed to the village of Siridão, or to encapsulate the general collective memory of the extravagant processions that were the norm in the 1500s, whence large swathes of Paulists would line up in groups of three and walk down the roads of Ilhas de Goa, singing hymns and playing musical instruments. An interesting point to note is that the traveller José Nicolau da Fonseca, in his Sketch of Goa, states that this practice was still being followed in a handful of villages when he visited Goa in 1878.

Faded Statue of the Paulist strumming a string instrument and a dog at his feet, located in an open area behind Siridão Church | Pantaleão Fernandes

In fact, the sheer wealth of the Paulists knew no bounds, as they owned large plots of lands cultivating fields and orchards in various villages in the Goan heartlands, bought large villas on the seaside as vacation homes – specifically in Siridão, Curca and adjoining villages, and one fairly influential and infamous Jesuit by the name of Fr. Gonçalo Martins even purchased the entirety of the Island of Cumbarjua. Inadvertently, their fame and oftentimes infamy led to their immortalization in the Goan societal subconscious.

The Aftermath & Legacy of the Paulists in Goa

The prestige of the Jesuits soon crumbled following the decree in 1759 by the Marquis of Pombal, the Prime Minister of Portugal at the time, which implicated the Society of Jesus behind the plot to assassinate the King. The Jesuits were stripped of all their possessions and imprisoned in the homeland. During this period, there had been a growing hatred by the Crown towards not just the Jesuits, but all the Religious Orders due to their ties to the Catholic Church and their extensive wealth and power in the machinations of the State. This severely conflicted with the Enlightenment ideas of the time and the birth of the nation-state, and thus culminated into the complete expulsion of all Religious Orders from Portuguese territories in 1834.

Façade of the old College of St. Paul, in Doric style, located in Old Goa | Wikipedia

By this time, the old College of St. Paul was merely a husk of its former glory. All that remains of it today is the façade in the shape of an arch with a niche at the top and a cross crowning it. With regards to the demise of the new College, it was soon closed following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759, and over the course of the end of the 18th Century, it soon fell into ruin. In 1832, it was completely demolished and its materials subsequently used to build a military barracks at Panjim. What survives of the mythical Paulists today are the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Rachol Seminary, however, there still exist several institutions associated with the modern Jesuits in Goa today, such as the Loyola High School in Margao, the St. Britto High School and St. Xavier’s College in Mapusa, along with a multitude of churches and chapels dotting our land.

The story of the Paulists in Goa is one of knowledge and of corruption, of hopes and of tragedies, of reality and of fiction; yet despite the fact that giants never really straggled across Goan soil, they might as well have; for although the Paulists are now long gone from our lands, their legacy continues to live on not merely in the grandiose churches, convents and schools they have left us, but so too in our collective memory, through the myths and legends of time immemorial.

Sources / Further Reading:


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