In a web-series on MIG TV that aims to present our viewers some of the oldest churches in India, here is the Bandel Church of West Bengal built in 1599 by the Portuguese, which is now known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Portugal in the early 16th century invaded India and had colonies in various parts of the country, Goa being the epicentre. In the eastern parts of India, the Portuguese traders got the permission to settle a township from Mogul emperor Akbar in 1571. By 1598, there was a thick Portuguese settlement in Bengal, making Bandel a town 40 kilometres from Kolkata the epicentre of commerce for the Portuguese traders . The Christian priests from Portugal who came in good numbers, started baptizing the local natives and it was in 1599 when the Bandel Church was first built. It was the perhaps the first Catholic Church in West Bengal.
Then history records further allegories of destruction and consolidation of this church over the years starting from 1632 when the then Mogul emperor Shah Jehan attacked and ruined the Portuguese settlements including the church. It was again the year 1660 that the church was rebuilt over the ruins. The keystone foundation of the ancient church remains in the eastern gate of this beautiful church.
This church has two altars of Mary, known as Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Happy Voyage and has an interesting history dating back to the 16th century. According to legends, it was here that Father de Cruz heard a recognizable voice of Tiago calling him from the waters of the stream and declaring that ‘Our woman was returning’. The Father suspected that it was only a fantasy and afterward Tiago reported in an extraordinary light that ‘She spared the Christians from death’. The following morning the statue of Mother Mary was brought by the local fishermen. That was how the church was named!
The Bandel Basilica is located about 43 kilometres from Kolkata and can be reached by road or rail. The Basilica is hardly about fifteen minutes from the Bandel railway station. The Bandel church is now a heritage church as the Pope John Paul II declared this as a Minor Basilica in 1988. There are more such stories that can encapsulate a journey to this quaint little town by the banks of River Hooghli in repose and intriguing history.