The stone tablet on Holy Hill at Old Goa

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Within the St. Augustinian ruins on the Holy Hill at Old Goa is an interesting tablet carved out of basalt stone. It depicts a two headed bird with a heart pierced by an arrow, a worm or a snake in one mouth (or beak) and a lamp in the other. The tablet is overlooking  what appears to be some sort of a water font.

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What is the significance of this iconography? In ancient Europe it was believed that a pelican would cut its breast open with its beak and feed its young with its own blood if there was not enough food. Pelicans don’t actually do that. Some even believed that the pelican had the power to bring its dead young back to life by giving them its blood.

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It became a symbol of Christ sacrificing himself for man – and because of this was frequently represented in Christian art. Early Christians had adopted it by the 2nd century and started using it in texts and images, making it a very special bird.

The carving on the tablet, most probably,  depicts just this  self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ.

In his book, “Jewish Martyrs of Old Goa”, Mr. Ivar Fjeld claims that the tablet has its origin from the times of the Jewish settlement in ‘Ela’ or -as it is well known today- Old Goa, the historical “Rua dos Judeus” being in the vicinity  of the St.Augustinian ruins.

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While I was in the vicinity of the ruins, I chanced to notice a carved  image on one of the doors of the Santa Monica  Convent which has a striking similarity with the image on the stone tablet. The imagery appears to me to be of pure Christian  and not of Jewish origin.

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Or else, it could have some reference to St.Augustine himself. St. Augustine was a Bishop. A bishop’s mitre can be seen just above the bird’s heads and a bishop’s staff can be clearly made out diagonally as well. It could well be an Augustinian bishop’s coat-of-arms who occupied the See of Goa and was also involved in the construction of the monastery.

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