One of the oldest churches of West Bengal, as it is commonly known, the Bandel Church is formally called The Basilica of the Holy Rosary. It is situated in the town of Bandel in Hooghly district and serves as a memorial of the Portuguese settlement in Bengal. The church is dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Our Lady of the Rosary (Mother Mary, mother of Jesus Christ) and is a part of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta thereby being designated as a parish church.
History of Bandel Church
The history of the Bandel Church is associated with the arrival of Portuguese trading companies in Bengal. India started becoming the trade hub for European countries. Calcutta was already the capital of India, and the banks of Hooghly River became the major trading post for the English, Dutch and the French. The Portuguese decided to follow suit and arrived on the banks of Hooghly in the year 1535.
Bandel Church History - Arrival of Portuguese in Bengal and Pardon of Shah Jahan
After arriving in Bengal in 1535, the Portuguese started their trade at Saptagram and later in 1575 received permission from Emperor Akbar to establish a settlement in Hooghly, where their trade flourished. As a part of their agenda to spread religious teachings along with their trade, the Portuguese monks from Goa arrived in Hooghly and built a monastery and a church in 1599. This church was named Church of the Holy Rosary.
However, with time, the Portuguese became extremely cruel and by the end of 16th century, they started robbing common people, and selling the women and children to slavery. This irked Shah Jahan, the then Mughal Emperor and ordered an attack on Hooghly port. The attack was carried out by Shah Jahan’s commander-in-chief, Qasim Khan Juvayni Nawab. Qasim Khan destroyed the church, sank the statue of Mother Mary (Our Lady of Happy Voyage) in the river and killed 4 out of the 5 priests and took the fifth priest, Joan da Cruz, and his followers to Agra as prisoners.
One of the followers named Tiago tried saving the statue of Mother May but could not succeed and it was thought to be lost.
Father Joan da Cruz was tried in the court of Shah Jahan and was sentenced to death by being trampled under the feet of elephants. This was to be done before an entire crowd. However, instead of crushing the man under its feet, the elephant lifted the priest on its back with his trunk and started walking towards the emperor. Watching this, the emperor pardoned the priest and all his followers, sent them back to Hooghly with money to rebuild the church, along with 311 acres of land. The new church was rebuilt in 1660.
With the support from the emperor, the church authorities now had land as well as money with which they built seminaries and schools in areas around the church.
Bandel Church History - Our Lady of Happy Voyage and The Portuguese Ship Mast
While Father Joan da Cruz rebuilt the church, the only piece missing was the statue of Mother Mary, which was also called Our Lady of Happy Voyage that has sunk in the Hooghly River. It is believed that Father heard a voice calling him, which he felt to be Tiago’s voice and exclaiming that ‘Our Lady’ was coming back and it was she who saved the believers. The very next morning, the local fishermen brought the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage to his doorstep. It is believed to have been a miracle.
There were festivities arranged for a few days to celebrate the return of Our Lady of Happy Voyage and it was right then, as the celebrations neared closure, a Portuguese ship landed at Bandel port, and the captain of the ship donated the main flag mast of the ship to the church. This was done as he had prayed and promised to donate the main mast of the ship to the first church he would spot after their ship survived a dangerous storm in the Bay of Bengal.
Bandel Church History – How the Church got its name
The word Bandel is derived from the Portuguese term, ‘Mastro de Banderia’, which means Flag Post. When the ship’s captain gifted the flag mast of his ship to the church, it was considered an honor because the ship’s flag represents the king and the kingdom which the ship belongs to. Hence, the church was also called ‘Banderia Church’ and the word ‘Banderia’ slowly got transformed to Bandel thus, the name, ‘Bandel Church’.
Bandel Church History – Visit of Pope John Paul II
During his visit to the church on November 25 in 1988, Pope John Paul II declared the church to be a minor basilica and thus the church got its current name, Basilica of the Holy Rosary, Bandel.
Image Gallery of Bandel Church Kolkata
Architecture of Bandel Church
The church went through a major facelift in the 1990s however, the church itself is not a large structure as compared to the other famous cathedrals and churches of West Bengal but an impressive structure with a rather large campus with an open field.
The entire church is redecorated with marble and granite, there are beautiful murals on the walls and few grottos to make the place more attractive for tourists.
The Ship Mast: The mast erected by the captain remained at its place in front of the church for several years until 2010 during a heavy storm when a huge tree got uprooted and fell on the mast, which made the mast fall and crack. The ship mast has been kept inside a glass enclosure ever since.
Main Church: The life of Christ is depicted through beautiful paintings inside the church. The statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage is kept at the altar with beautiful decorations. The gates of the church are open for tourists during visiting hours except during a mass. People can visit and spend ample time inside the church. There is a huge chandelier inside the main church and the windows are decorated with tinted glass works. Photography is not permitted inside the church.
The Courtyard: There is a grotto and a fountain in the courtyard. People generally light candles and offer prayer by the grotto and drop coins in the fountain with a wish. There is a flight of stairs around the central courtyard which leads to the roof of the church which has a shrine for Our Lady of Happy Voyage. It is a peaceful area to sit and watch the happenings around.
Timings and Entry Fee of Bandel Church
The Bandel church is open from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM all days including public holidays. There is no entry fee to visit the church.
How to reach Bandel Church
Bandel is very well connected with all major cities in India through railways, roadways, and airways. It is situated 40 kilometers from Howrah Junction Railway Station.
By Air: The nearest airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. You may hire prepaid taxis or a cab from top car rental companies in Kolkata to reach Bandel, which is around 40 kilometers from the airport.
By Train: Bandel is connected to major cities through an amazing rail network. Apart from short distance trains, almost all major long-distance trains too, stop at Bandel junction except for a few premium ones like Shatabti, Rajdhani, etc.
By Road: You may board a bus from Kolkata to Bandel. Buses stop at Bandel Church among other places around the town.
Best Time to visit Bandel Church
The best time to visit Bandel Church is during the winter months or during monsoon when there are light showers. The period between mid-December to early January is very busy due to Christmas and New Year. There is a heavy inflow of tourists during that period.
Places to visit near Bandel Church
Dutch Cemetery, Hooghly Imambara, Tarakeshwar Temple, Hangseswari Temple, Pandua Bari Mosque, Shanderswartala Temple
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