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Bandel Church: Pilgrimage centre with royal history

The huge crowds that gather and the beautiful church proclaim to the world that Our Lady of the Rosary is indeed unassailable. That is what assures the pilgrims who come here with their heartfelt supplications.

Bandel Church: Pilgrimage centre with royal history

By Joe Palathunkal
Those who go for a pilgrimage to Bandel in Bengal may not know that the historic Catholic pilgrim centre has a royal history too. The Church of the Our Lady of the Rosary was built by the Portuguese with the permission from the greatest emperor of India – Akbar the Great.

Built in 1599 by the Portuguese who set up their colony in Hooghly in the 16th century had their priests to baptize the natives whose number rose to five thousand by 1598. A church became essential for these native Catholics of Bengal whose number was increasing day by day.



Captain Pedro Tavares from Portugal got permission from Emperor Akbar the Great to build a church for the new Catholics and as a result the present church came up which is one of the most famous Marian pilgrim centres in India.

A group of Augustinian friars from Goa arrived here to render their pastoral care to the newly baptized Catholics of Hooghly. Their dedicated pastoral care made the church in Hooghly a dynamic faith-community till tragedy struck it in 1632.

The moors attacked the Hooghly region and ransacked the whole town by burning down the settlement. As usual they did not spare the church which was burnt down and reduced to a ruin. When the siege ended a newer church was constructed over the ruins by John Gomez deSoto in 1660 which continues even today with timely modifications and innovations.



On the eastern gate of the Augustinian monastery you can still spot the keystone of the older church reviving the history of a great pilgrim church which Pope John Paul II raised to a minor basilica on November 25, 1988, the month in which throngs of pilgrims crowd for the feast of the Our Lady of the Rosary or NossaSenhora do Rosário.

The huge crowds that gather and the beautiful church proclaim to the world that Our Lady of the Rosary is indeed unassailable. That is what assures the pilgrims who come here with their heartfelt supplications.

The mast of the ship you sight in front of the church tells you that this unassailable mother can save you from any calamity. The captain of a ship who was caught up in a storm in the Bay of Bengal had sent his supplications in tear and fear and the mother saved him miraculously. In gratitude the captain gifted the mast to the church which has three altars and a shrine to Mary the unfailing mother.

Built on a large area of 777 bigghas of land the area’s history takes us to another great emperor of India – Shah Jahan who had given rent-free 380 bigghas out of the 777. With two royal connections, the Bandel church is indeed a royal pilgrimage centre one should not miss in life, just 45 miles from Howrah railway station in Calcutta or Kolkotta.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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