The “Igreja de Graca” (Our Lady of Grace) which is completing the Golden Jubilee this year, was originally a chapel known as ‘Capela de Batalhao’. It was founded by the Portuguese “lo. Regimento de Infantaria” (1st Infantry Regiment). The chapel was constructed at the initiative of its dynamic commander Brigadier Agostinho Jose de Mota who later became General of Salcete in 1804. His ‘quarter (barrack) was functioning in the nearby building where, after its extinction, the “Reparticao dos Services de Fazenda” (Revenue Office) was installed. This ancient building was demolished in recent years and a four storied building constructed therein, where the Office of the Collectorate is now functioning.
The inaugural stone of the construction of the chapel was laid in the evening of 6,h January, 1812, Feast of Epiphany, and the construction was completed within five months. The first mass was celebrated on 3td May, 1812, “Festa de Santa Cruz” (Feast of the Holy Cross). The building was elegant, standing out majestically, highly visible due to the elevation of the locale, with a large open space, facing the municipal garden.
The chapel was dedicated to ‘Nossa Senhora de Graca’ (Our Lady of Grace). Besides the Sunday mass and novenas of the Patroness and St. Augustine, there were, on all fridays of Lent, Way of the Cross with sermon and ‘beijo do Senhor Morto’.
With the opening of the railway line in 1888 (the railway station being located only a few metres away) and with the starting of ‘Mercado Novo’ (New Market) the following year, the importance of the location of the chapel increased many fold, as many people who were coming to Margao on Sundays to sell their market products, as well as those coming to make their purchases, would go to the chapel for the Sunday obligatory mass, and one could see dozens of baskets with vegetables, fruits, fish, stored for a while in the compound.
Then, in 1922, with the launch of the first ‘carreira de caminhetas, (ancient bus trips) from Margao to Cortalim and the bus stand being placed near the chapel, many government offices were located around, serving Salcete and all of South Goa. Thus the ‘Capela de Batalhao’ became advantageously earmarked at the crossroads of Margao town.
The last ‘Capelao military do lo. Batalhao’ (military chaplain) was Pe. Venancio Felicio da Piedade Almeida of Velim, who retired in 1891, after being promoted to the post of’alferes’.
In the decade of the thirties, a priest, with a broad vision, was posted as the chaplain, Bacharel Pe. Caetano Santana Lourenco, a Portuguese primary teacher,who retired with appreciation. It was due to his zeal and efforts that the chapel was renovated and the attached paroquial residence built. Pe. Lourenco himself contributed with some thousands of rupees and also some neighbours. In 1941, in appreciation of his services, a marble with an inscription and his portrait in oil was placed there by the parishioners.