Sunday, 19 May 2019

Bandel Church near Kolkata, a legacy of Portuguese settlement


Bandel church - Basilica of Holy Rosary  en.wikipedia.org
 Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Our Lady of the Rosary at Bandel, West Bengal is one of the oldest churches in India. It is believed,  St. Francis Church, in Kochi, Kerala, built in 1503, is the oldest European church in India. The seven and half churches established by St. Thomas in the coastal Kerala are the oldest ones established in 52 AD.  The town  of Hoogley close to Kolkata is equally one of the oldest towns developed during the colonial period.  Earlier called Ugulim, it was in 1579 the Portuguese founded the town which later came to be called. Hoogley.  The great kingdom of Bhurshut flourished for thousands of years of in the district. During their heyday Portuguese developed their mercantile trading activities and this place served as a major   trading port. They built some religious structures for the Christian community living there  to take care of their spiritual needs. Among them even today stands  a beautiful church dedicated to Mother Mary at Bandel, about 43km from Kolkata and there is an amazing  statue of Mother Mary brought by the Portuguese.
Bandel church, WB, kolkatabengalinfo.com
Time keeps changing, so is the political scenario in the 17th century. A major part of the Indian subcontinent was ruled by the Moguls. Moguls managed this part of Bengal through their agent called Governor. When the Mogul rule weakened, the governors of some regions began to act as a sort of de facto rulers, This was true of many places across north India. The Mogul  Governor of Bengal  was not happy with the the way  the Portuguese were doing business there.  The Portuguese  discovered the sea route to India and landed  in Calicut, Kerala in 1498 and after several decades, they moved over to Bengal to try their luck in trade activities. Though they got the permission from the Mogul rulers, then and there they had tough time with Bengal Governor, the agent of the Mogul ruler.  During one of the tough skirmishes with the Bengal Nawab's forces, the fleeing Portuguese preachers  lost the statue of Mary in the river, but  the local people later  discovered it on the river bank. In the wake of the strained relationship between the local agent and Portuguese, the latter were arrested and sent to Delhi  to undergo severe punishment. A death sentence  was pronounced by the Mogul Court  and the priests had to be trampled upon by  elephants.  When  the emperor Shah Jahan  was informed about this unjust punishment, being the regal head, he ordered the priests released, Besides, he himself granted a piece of land on the bank of the river Hoogly at Bandel, where the statue of the Mother Mary was to be  reinstalled. After, with permission from Emperor Akbar,  the  Portuguese constructed  Bandel church to house the statue.  The church was renovated in 1980s and has been declared as a basilica by the authority of Rome. Earlier on November 25, 1988, Pope John Paul II declared the sanctuary a minor basilica. The Basilica of the Holy Rosary commonly known as Bandel Church  was founded in 1599 by the Portuguese. Dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Our Lady of the Rosary at Bandel  it is  one of the oldest Christian churches in West Bengal, India and it today stands as a legacy of the Portuguese settlement in Bengal, Eastern India. Bandel (Hooghly district of West Bengal)  means port in Bengali. It is also a parish church, part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta.It is one of the most important  historical churches in West Bengal as well as in India.
In 1579, the Portuguese built a fort as part of their small settlement. They also enlisted the services  of Augustinian Friars,  who then formed the  largest religious body in Goa. The purpose was to spread the 'Gospel of Christ' in this part of Bengal.

The very  first church having been  burnt down during the sacking of Hooghly by the Moors in 1632, a new  church  with monastery,  was built by one Gomez de Soto (also spelt John Comes de Soto)  over the ruin in 1660. The keystone of the older church can still be seen on the eastern gate of the monastery, bearing the date 1599. This church is a good example of Portuguese architecture with particular reference to churches. This impressive church is being visited by people of all faiths.  The striking structure, chandeliers, coloured-glass windows and the statues in the compound  add beauty to this old church. In the compound, one can see a Portuguese ship's mast which is believed to have been dedicated to the church by the ship captain in 1660. Caught in a severe storm, he prayed to the lord to save their lives and, as a token of his gratitude, he would offer the ship mast to the first church sighted. The storm became weakened and the  captain stuck to his word. The main altar has Mary and the small altars have Jesus and St. John Bosco. There are other statues, besides a graveyard.  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinsurah