Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Bandel - first Catholic church in Bengal!

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary,Bandel.

Christianity was introduced to Bengal after the arrival of the Portuguese and later English merchants in 1600s. Especially the former were were keen to introduce the natives to this new faith widely followed in the western countries. The population of Bengal then  consisted predominantly of Hindus followed by Muslim. The Augustinian Friars were the largest Christian body in Goa which was under the Portuguese. When the Portuguese moved over to the Bengal region and  having successfully established their trading business, they  permitted the Augustinian Friars  to carry out the job of  converting the natives to Christian faith, despite some resentment among local authorities.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary - signifying 'garland of Roses', Bandel, (now West Bengal)  is one of the oldest  Catholic churches in this state and in  India. The Bandel Basilica is located about 43 kilometers from Calcutta (Kolkata)  and about 15 miles from Badel railway station. This church has several altars and a shrine of Mary, who is known as Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Happy Voyage. It was built by the Portuguese in 1660 in their settlement where  they were engaged in mercantile trade in this region. The area was under the control of the Mogul Emperor Akbar who, gave (1571) the foreigners necessary permission to build a town in Hoogley. By the bye, the oldest Christian place of worship was founded in 1599, the year in which Queen Elizabeth I sanctioned the establishment of the East India Company to carry overseas mercantile trade in Asia and elsewhere.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary,Bandel.

As the Catholic priests were actively baptizing the natives (with permission from the ruler) here, over a period of time,  the population of the Christian community increased to more than 5000. The Portuguese  entrusted the religious work to the Augustinian Friars,  the largest religious body in Goa, on the Western India.  A place of worship - Church was the need of the hour. The first church built earlier did not last long as it was attacked by the Moors who burnt it down  in 1632,  and later by the Mogul ruler Shah Jahan who targeted the Portuguese settlements and also this church. In the wake of this raid, among the priests one Father Joan da Cruz survived. The holy statue of Mary sank in to the river when a devotee, who was carrying it  across the river to safety,  was also killed midway by an enemy. 

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary,

A miracle had happened when the Mogul emperor wanted  Father da Cruz and others killed before a herd of elephants The elephant carefully placed the father on its back with his trunk and then knelt before the Emperor  as  if  for seeking forgiveness. Dumbfounded, as he was,  Shah Jahan gave a new lease of life to the father and his devotees and set them free.  Now a changed man,  Shah Jehan  donated about 101.21 hectares to the local Christians upon which, a new church was built  by  Gomez de Soto (also spelt John Comes de Soto), in the year 1660 over the ruins. In the eastern gate of the monastery  one can find the foundation of the ancient church building

This historical  church dedicated to Nostra Senhora di Rozario, is popularly known as Our Lady of the Rosary - symbolic of the Roman Catholic veneration of Mother Mary. It has  5 sets of 10 "Hail Mary" interspersed with "Our Father" prayers.  In 1214
an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary  handed over the Rosary to Saint Dominic. One will be emotionally moved by a spectacular life sized statue of Mother of Sorrows in marble sitting with the body of dead Jesus on her lap.

The church has a fascinating history. It was here one mid night that Father de Cruz heard a familiar voice from nowhere of a devotee named Tiago,  calling him from the waters of the river and announcing that 'Our lady was coming back'. The Father brushed it aside as a dream. Then Tiago announced in a miraculous light that 'She saved the Christians from death'.  Following  morning,  the local fishermen  brought the statue of Mother Mary,  stating that 'Guru Maa' is back.
The other story has it that it was Mother Mary who saved the the captain of a Portuguese ship and his crew from a severe storm in the Bay of Bengal. Hence, a ship's mast stands in front of the church in memory of that incident.

A major festival ( the Novena of Notre Dame de Bon Voyage) is held every year in  November at  this Basilica of Bandel. It is attended by  thousands of pilgrims all over India  to thank Our Lady of Rosary and celebrate her miracles. 

This Bandel church is a heritage church that was declared as a Basilica in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.