SOME OF THE OLDEST CHURCHES IN MUMBAI

 

St. Michael’s Church: Mahim

St. Michael’s Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches as well as one of oldest existing Portuguese buildings in Mumbai. The church is situated in Mahim, located at the intersection of L.J. Road and Mahim Causeway. Due to its location, it is also informally known as Mahim Church. The church is famous for its Novenas on Wednesdays, which is visited by thousands.

The church, originally built in 1534, is rebuilt a number of times, the present structure dating to 1973. The church also served a refuge to popular icon of the Virgin Mary from Our Lady of the Mount chapel, Bandra from 1739 to 1761. In 1853, the Church witnessed a showdown between vicars Apostolic and the Portuguese padroado order for the control of the Church. In recent history, on 27 June, 2008, thousands of devotees visited the Church to see a reported “bleeding” Jesus Christ’s portrait, which was termed as a “miracle” by devotees. Though on further investigation, the red spots on the picture showed no traces of blood.

Not only Christians, but also adherents of other faiths congregate to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary and attend mass every Wednesday. Devotees believe that visiting the Church on nine consecutive Wednesdays (Novena) will grant their wishes. They offer floral garlands according to the Hindu customs and repeat prayers before the image. Some of them offer wax figures of what they desire, for example, a wax house. According to Father Hugh Fonseca, around 40-50,000 devotees visit the church every week.

The weekly Novena services were started in 1948, when a priest Fr. Edward Placidus Fernandes from Mumbai noticed a similar ritual celebrating Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Belfast, Northern Ireland, during his visit to Europe. Fr. Fernandes brought with him a picture touched to the original Our Lady of Perpetual Succour picture at Rome. On the 8th of September, 1948 – the Birthday of Mary, concurrent with a Wednesday that year, Fr. Fernandes as the vicar held the first Novena services. Initially, only two services were held every Wednesday, but today from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm, the thirteen services are held in various languages: English, Konkani, Marathi, Tamil and Hindi.

Mount Mary Church: Bandra

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, more commonly known as Mount Mary Church, is a Roman Catholic Basilica located in Bandra, Mumbai. The Basilica is one of the most visited ‘religious places of worship’ in the city[citation needed]. Every September, the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on the first Sunday after 8 September, the birthday of the Virgin Mary. This is a week long celebration known as the Bandra Fair and is visited by thousands of people.

Although the current church edifice is just 100 years old, the history behind the current statue of Our Lady goes back to the 16th century when Jesuit priests from Portugal brought the statue to the current location and constructed a chapel. In 1700 Arab pirates interested in the gilt-lined object held in the hand disfigured the statue by cutting off the right hand.

In 1760, the church was rebuilt and the statue was substituted with a statue of Our Lady of Navigators in St. Andrew’s church nearby. This statue has an interesting legend. It goes that a Koli fisherman dreamt that he would find a statue in the sea. The statue was found floating in the sea between 1700 and 1760. A Jesuit Annual Letter dated to 1669 and published in the book St. Andrew’s Church, Bandra (1616–1966) supports this claim. The Koli Fishermen call the statue as Mot Mauli, literally meaning The Pearl Mother (Mot= Moti= pearl and Mauli= Mother).however the pervious statue is now restored and now enjoys the place of honour in the bascilica.

 

St Peter’s Church: Bandra

The Old Church: The foundation of the original St Peter’s Church was laid in April 12, 1852, by Bishop Hartmann. The Church was completed in September 1853. It measured approximately 100 by 75 feet. In 1867 a second storey was added to the old top floor.

 The storey above the Church was at first used as the priests’ residence and parish school. In 1855, the Jesuit Seminary was transferred from Surat to Bandra, and the seminary and the parish schools were merged. In 1863, the seminary was again transferred to Bombay, and the Boys’ Orphanage from Bombay came to Bandra. This was the beginning of the St Stanislaus’ High School.

The New Church: As far back as August 1887, the then Archbishop of Bombay issued the following appeal: “The poor parish of St. Peter’s Bandora, numbers with the orphans (boys and girls) 2215 souls and has for a church the floor of the boys’ Orphanage. This place is much too small and is ill-suited for divine service. A new and more spacious Church is much needed and will be a great benefit to the poor Parishioners and the Orphans”.

The growing needs of the parish necessitated the building of a larger Church, and so in September, 1938, Archbishop Thomas Roberts, S.J. blessed the foundation stone of the present St Peter’s Church.The new Church has been built on the site of the old and has been designed on the Romanesque style.The cost of the new St. Peter’s Church was Rs. 2,70,000/-. The whole Church building measures 130 ft by 80 ft.In front, as one enters, stands a life-size marble statue of Christ bearing the inscription I am the Resurrection and the Life.St Peter’s is capacious and can accommodate a thousand people easily. Inside, its excellent stained-glass windows, around twenty in number, look resplendent in the sunshine or when the lights are on.

Our Lady of Salvation Church : Dadar

In the sixteenth century, Dadar was known as lower Mahim and was part of the island of Mahim. The church, built in 1596, was rebuilt in 1651 and again in 1914. The present church, therefore, is the fourth on the original site although repairs and additions were often made.

The Portuguese Franciscans carried on as Vicars of Salvacao until 1720 when they had to quit Mahim and Mumbai. The restoration of the old church and the addition of a broad porch and terrace was undertaken in 1935, when the parochial hall was built and considered to be adequate to the needs of the parish. In 1940 however funds became available and the presbytery was built and provision made for a new church building. The church complex was divided into two halves to enable the construction of Gokhale Road following which, the wadis and coconut groves of Dadar were soon replaced by buildings. Catholics along with others from outside moved into the parish and accounted for two-fifths of the parish population. A much larger church, therefore, became necessary. The foundation stone for the brand new modern church on the site of the old church was laid in 1973. Mr. Charles Correia, the well known architect, designed the new building to liturgical specification supplied by Bishop Simon Pimenta.

The Gloria Church : Byculla 

 In view of the acquisition of the Gloria Church building at Mazagaon, land for a new church was secured at Byculla and plans for a massive and magnificent church were drawn by Messrs. A.L. Colaco & Co.

The foundation stone for the new Gloria Church at Byculla was laid on the 29th January 1911 by His Excellency Dom Matheus d’ Oliveira Xavier, Archbishop of Goa and Patriarch of the East Indies.The new church building was completed by the end of 1912 and blessed in 1913.Though the church was under the ‘Padroado Jurisdiction’ it was not rebuilt in the style of its predecessor which had features of a typical ‘ Portuguese Church ’ Instead it was built in the English Gothic style. Incidentally many churches and public buildings were built in this period with Gothic characteristics.

The church is built in the form of a Latin Cross. The façade is comprised of an imposing and impressive whose turrets are 160 feet high. The church is 205 feet long and 65 feet broad.The reredos of the five altars of the church are carved in stone in the Gothic style. The windows of the church have Gothic tracery carved in stone and each of the transepts has a rose window which is eighteen feet in diameter. The ceiling of the church has pointed arches that are typical of the Gothic style.

The old Gloria Church at Mazagaon and the new Gloria Church at Byculla are sometimes erroneously referred to as a ‘cathedral’, ‘pro-cathedral’ ‘quasi cathedral’. This is a mistake because the cathedral of the diocese of Damaun was always located at Damaun itself. The mistake arose due to the fact that the Bishop of Damaun sometimes carried out Episcopal services at the Gloria Church. In 1928 the Gloria church and parish was incorporated into the Archdiocese of Bombay as the Diocese of Damaun was suppressed in that year.The church building was consecrated on the 12th November 1938 by Archbishop Thomas Roberts, the Archbishop of Bombay.

St. Thomas Cathedral: Flora Fountain

St. Thomas Cathedral, Mumbai, completed in 1718, is the first Anglican church in Mumbai (then called Bombay), to improve the “moral standards” of the growing British settlement. It is located on Veer Nariman Road, close to Horniman Circle Gardens and the Flora Fountain.

The name of nearby Churchgate station has reference to this church. One of the gates in the Fort which the East India Company had built to protect their settlement was the entrance to the St. Thomas Church. It was called Churchgate. That is why the whole area towards the West of the Church is called “Churchgate” even today. The street leading to the Church was originally called Churchgate Street and has been more recently renamed (like many streets in Bombay) and is now known as Veer Nariman Road.

The island of Bombay which was a Portuguese possession became a part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Infanta Catherine of Braganza on her marriage to Charles II of England under the Anglo Portuguese treaty of June 1661. In 1668 King Charles transferred it to the East India Company for a loan of pounds Sterling 50,000 at 6% interest and with a rental of pounds Sterling 10 per annum!

Gerald Aungier was placed in charge of the British East India Company’s newly acquired factories at Surat and Bombay, which had until then belonged to Portugal. As Governor of Bombay from 1672—1677, Angier built a church, a hospital, a court of justice and other civic amenities on the English model, and fortified the Company’s commercial establishment.[1] The foundation stone for the church was laid in 1676, on Bombay Green, at the present site of the St. Thomas’ Cathedral, but over 40 years elapsed before construction could be completed. Richard Cobbe, the Chaplain, completed the construction of the building between 1715 and 1718. It was opened for divine service on Christmas Day 1718, and since then has served continuously as a church.

The church was consecrated a cathedral in July 1837. The tower and the clock at the western end were added in 1838. About 25 years later a major renovation scheme was launched to enlarge the chancel. This was completed by 1865.

Here, many a Briton was laid to rest under elaborate marble tablets engraved with touching elegies — generals and clerks and young maids all lying together in the silent, sundappled interior. Most of the tombstones bear eloquent messages.

Holy Cross Church: Kurla

Holy Cross Church, Kurla is a Roman Catholic Church in Kurla, a suburb of Mumbai, India. It was built during the Portuguese era by the Jesuits in 1588 and rebuilt in 1848. It is one of the oldest churches in Mumbai. The church belongs to the Archdiocese of Bombay.

A very few churches in the Archdiocese of Bombay have a long history like Holy Cross Church – Kurla.  Its history is writ large on its centuries old walls and reminisces of past artifacts.  The large history of 429 years of Holy Cross Church, Kurla, can be gleamed from certain well preserved historical records.  These historical records are available not only in India, especially in Portugal and Rome.

Afghan Church : Colaba

In the quieter lanes of Mumbai, just a kilometre before the southern most part of the city, a quiet, unassuming yet dignified structure stands in all its magnificence, peeping from behind a curtain of greens – St. John the Evangelist. The church is more popularly called The Afghan Church and is one of the oldest churches in Mumbai.

 This quintessential symbol of English architecture, with wide Gothic arches and beautiful stained glass windows, is actually a memorial to commemorate the death of officers and private soldiers in the first Afghan War in 1838. The bloodbath in the war spared just one soldier amongst the 1600 men who were sent to fight the war.

 The church had its humble beginnings as a small thatched chapel close to ‘Sick Bungalows’ where the Indian Naval Hospital ‘INS Ashwini’ now stands. The infrastructure was so basic that patrons actually had to bring their own chairs for mass and other gatherings! Later, the church was given land at its current location by the British government. After construction, the church was duly consecrated on January 7, 1858, by Bishop Harding. It may be interesting to note that the only condition imposed by the British government on the architects was that the spire of the church should be so high that it could be seen by all ships coming into the Bombay Harbour. True to their promise, the tower and the spire were made 198 ft (60 m) high, and can, even today, be seen from the harbour.

 The church was designed by city engineer Henry Conbeare and architect William Butterfield. At that time, about Rs. 565,000 was spent in the construction of the church. Sir Cowasji Jehangir was a major contributor and gave a hefty sum of Rs. 7,500 toward the cost of construction. He also placed an illuminated clock in the tower.

Stained glass, magic bells and Gothic arches

Though the imposing edifice was constructed by using locally available buff-coloured basalt, the tiles were brought in especially from Europe. The beautiful geometric floor pattern created with these tiles still shines. James Wailles, a nineteenth century stained glass expert, designed the awe-inspiring east and west windows. The quality of stain glass used is considered to be superior even to the ones used in Rajabai Tower and Victoria Terminus. Years of neglect and harsh environmental effects did manage to rob these beautiful windows of their glory, but in recent years, the conscientious efforts of stain glass restoration experts have more or less given their look back.

 Another highlight about this structure is its bells. The eight large bells in the bell tower have 40,320 changes and take anywhere between two hours and a half to four hours to ring. In fact, the bells remain unrivalled in the entire western India even today.

St. John the Baptist Church:Thane

The St. John the Baptist Church is a noted landmark in the district of thane. It is situated near the Masunda Lake, close to the Thane Railway Station.

The Baptist Church was formerly called the St. Anthony’s Church and was constructed in 1852 under the leadership and guidance of Fr. Antonio do Porto by the Portuguese (Franciscans) Missionaries.

In 1737, when the Maratha Empire seized the area of Thane, all the churches were demolished, save the St. Anthony Church. This is when the church’s name was changed from St. Anthony to St. John the Baptist.Over the years several changes have been made to the Franciscan church. It has undergone a lot of renovations to fortify the structure. The wooden altar, however, still remains intact. The front porch was extended to accommodate the increasingly growing number of church members and parishioners.

Sources: Wikipedia Media and other web sites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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