Monday, 6 July 2015

The church Basilica of Our lady of Graces (1820) - that Muslim Begum built near Meerut, UP, India

Our Lady of Graces,minor
Basilic, Sardhana, near Meerut, UP. India.en. wikipedia. org
Tourist Places in Uttar Pradesh.www.maps-india.com

Sardhana - interior dome. Our Lady of Graces, main alter of Basilica.www.flickr.com
Sardhana - Our Lady of Graces, main alter of Basilica en. wikipedia.org
Sardhana, a small  town, barely 22 km from  Meerut city has a historical church of by gone era and surprisingly a Muslim woman by the name of Begum Samru had close association with this church.

The church with its tall steeples and gothic architecture is noticeable  from a distance and the strikingly beautiful, serene  statue of Jesus Christ,  with his arms spread out in a welcoming gesture, welcomes visitors towards the historical church singularly built by a Muslim woman. This suggests religion has nothing to do with one's dedication or love for  Jesus Christ or Lord Krishna or the great Buddha.

Sardhana - Our Lady of Graces, main alter of Basilica en. wikipedia.org
This church is only one of 19 minor basilicas in India and is the only minor basilica in North India.  On December 13, 1961 Pope John XXIII  decided to upgrade the Church to the status of Minor Basilica, indeed a rare honor. Also known as church among the churches, it was  built by Begum Samru, a Nautch girl (Dancing girl) of 14 who married a European mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt Sombre of Luxembourg. She succeeded to the command of his mercenary troops and  was converted to Roman Catholicism in 1781 and adopted the name Joanna Nobilis. She  took the credit of being   only Catholic ruler in India, and ruled the Principality of Sardhana in 18th and 19th century and she played a crucial role in the politics and power struggle. Samru  ruled her estate with an iron hand and  commanded respect. Her word was law in the land she ruled and well-respected.A woman of charitable disposition, she supported financially many charitable and religious institutions.

The date of beginning of the construction of this church is a matter of controversy. A famous lawyer and one of the framers of Indian constitution Shri. K. M. Munshi, suggested  the date as 1809, whereas Fr. Keegan, in his study of the Begum,  gave a date of 1820. After some representation from the Begum, Pope Gregory XVI established the Apostolic Vicariate of Sardhana from the Apostolic Vicariate of Tibet-Hindustan and appointed Bishop Julius Caesar Scotti as the Apostolic Vicar later merged with the Apostolic Vicariate of Agra. After 1822 the church became a cathedral for a short time, with its own bishop. The Bishop's Palace has become now a girls school.
Samru's original palace has now become a seminary for training priests.

Begum Samru inherited the Jagir of Sardhana after her husband's death in 1778. Subsequently, she made up her mind to build a wonderful  Church at Sardhana, dedicated to Virgin Mary. She had spent, it is believed, 4 lakhs of rupees, a huge amount in those days.

This beautiful church, whose architect was an Italian in the Begum's service named  Antonio Reghellini is the largest in North India and the style is based upon St Peter's in Rome with a touch of Palladio for Reghellini was a native of Vicenza. He also blended Indian architectural design. Reghellini completed the church in 11 years.

Semi precious stone work, a Greek colonnaded veranda, an elevated altar with a stained glass dome, two spires and three Roman domes enhance the beauty and  grandeur. of this church  The interior of the church is beautiful beyond description  and  is simply a model of very highest craftsmanship. Marble rock is entirely used although there are colored rocks just like the Taj used at selected places by the architect. The illuminated octagonal dome was built in such a way the sun light appears to stream through the center.

In the sanctuary there is a Begum's tomb -  a majestic 18 feet high building. The sculpture depicts  Begum Samru on the throne, smoking a hookah with Europeans and Indians in audience. It was designed by  the Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini and was transported to Sardhana from Italy to Kolkata by ship and by boats and bullock carts from there to this small, dusty town. It was indeed a strenuous  job in those days. It depicts  the begum with a scroll from Emperor Shah Alam II bestowing upon her the fiefdom of Sardhana after her husband's death. Also depicted are her adopted son David Dyce Sombre and her Diwan, Rae Singh who happened to be  the great-grandfather of Motilal Nehru, father of Jawahar Lal Nehru, first prime minister of India.



Tit-Bits:


 01. The small town of  Sardhana is accessible by road from Meerut city, which is 22 km away. The nearest railway station is Meerut, while the nearest airport is at Delhi (104 km).

 02. 45 minutes drive  from Meerut to reach the town of Sardhana. Driving through the fertile fields of mustard and sugarcane, interspersed with mango orchards, on a bumpy road to this small town will be good experience for strangers.

03. The right time to visit would be between November and March. On the second Sunday of November every year pilgrims line up there with their wishlist.
 

04. The first church evr built by a Muslim woman.

05. Begum Samru, a catholic convert, born as Farzana Zebunisa in 1751, and considered to be the only Catholic ruler, that too woman  in India.
 

06. The historical church is the only minor basilica in North India.

 07. Sardhana is also famous for Maulana Sadiq Husain Sardhanwi, a scholar and novilist of Urdu literature.
 Ref:

Christian missions in north India, 1813–1913: a case study of ... - Page 74
"A queen's magnificent church". The Indian Express. September 3, 2012.

http://www.sardhana.org.uk/basilica.html

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2007/20071111/spectrum/main5.html



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Our_Lady_of_Graces

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sardhana