Guide to Bandel Church

Bandel Church (1)

Continuing with my Chinsurah series, this time, I will take you the famous Bandel Church. This is a must stop if you are on a day visit to Chinsurah, this famous church dates back centuries and is one of the most important landmarks in the town. Probably this is the only church that I have seen with my own eyes where non-Christians visit more than Christians. People flock to this church in lakhs every year seeking blessings and sometimes to give thanks for the blessings received.

This church has a long history in itself as well as with my family. Before going into the details of the church let me start off with my family connection. My grandfather used to be a clerk working at Ministry of Finance (Sales Dept), Government of India during the early 1950’s. In those days, government salaries were very meagre and often not enough for a family of six to have a comfortable life. One day my grandfather had prayed at Bandel church for divine blessings by which he would be able to manage his family life in a modest way.

His prayers were answered and within a month he became an office and when he retired he was the Deputy Director of his department and finally even promoted as the Director a couple of months before his retirement. He never forgot the blessings that he received and till his death contributed to the church every month.

So as a family tradition we have not forgotten the blessings received and continue to receive and keep visiting this church from time to time.

Location of Bandel Church on Map

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Location of Bandel Church
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Bandel Church – Early 20th Century
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Bandel Church – As Seen Now
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Bandel Church – As Seen Now

Bandel Church History – Portuguese in India

Most of these can be seen posted around the church but unfortunately most do not find the time to read them, let me tell you the story of Bandel church one chapter at a time.

India was soon becoming a hub for European trade and Calcutta was becoming the de facto capital of India. From the British to Dutch to French everyone had come down to the banks of the Hoogly River and established a trading post. Seeing all these the Portuguese were also not far behind and they had a quite flourishing trading port on the banks of Hooghly in the year 1537.

Portuguese Eastern Empire in the 16th And 17th Century
Portuguese Eastern Empire in the 16th And 17th Century

It is to be noted that by this time the Portuguese had already established another base in Kerala / Goa thus this was more of an extension of their trading circle.

It is also a fact of history that wherever the Europeans went they took Christianity along with them. This was also applicable here in Hooghly. Monks from Goa came to this place and built a small monastery along with a church in the year 1599. These monks belonged to the Augustinians order of the Roman Catholic denomination. The church was known by the name Church of the Holy Rosary.

Bandel Church (7)
A View of Chinshura the Dutch settlement in Bengal by W. Hodges

Bandel Church History – Pardon of Shah Jahan

In the year 1632, the armies of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan under the leadership of Qasim Khan Juvayni Nawab attacked the Hooghly port during this attack five of the Augustinians monks were killed however one survived. His name was Father Joan Da Cruz. During this siege a believer named Tiago tried to cross the Hooghly River along with the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage to take it to safety, however, he did not succeed and was killed during the crossing. The statue in the process sank into the Hooghly River and was lost.

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Shah Jahan at his Durbar
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Mughal Forces Under Qasim Khan Juvayni Nawab Attcking the Hooghly Ports
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Tiago Trying to Cross the River with the Statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage

Father Joan Da Cruz along with other followers was captured and taken to Agra to the courts of Shah Jahan. Here they were sentenced to death by trampling under the feet of ferocious elephants. A large crowd had gathered along with the emperor to watch the sentence being carried out. A miracle folded right in front of their eyes, the elephant instead of killing lifted Father Joan Da Cruz on its back bits its trunk and slowly proceeded towards the emperor and bent to ask for forgiveness.

Miracle by the Elephants - Father Joan Da Cruz Along With Other Followers
Miracle by the Elephants – Father Joan Da Cruz Along With Other Followers

Seeing this miracle the emperor Shah Jahan decided to free Father Joan Da Cruz along with other followers and sent them back to Hooghly. He also gave them money to reconstruct the church along with 777 bighas (311 Acres) of land.

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The New Church Rebuilt With Patronage from Emperor Shah Jahan

Bandel Church History – Our Lady of Happy Voyage

Father Joan Da Cruz in the meantime rebuilt the church and the only missing piece was the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage. One night Father Joan Da Cruz heard a mysterious call from the Hooghly River, this was the voice of Tiago the servant of God who tried to save the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage. Father Joan Da Cruz heard his friend tell him that “Our Lady” was coming back and that it was she who had saved the believers.

Next morning Father Joan Da Cruz found the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage in front of the doorstep of the church. The local fisherman had found it. This was the second miracle to happen in this church.

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Our Lady of Happy Voyage Returns To the Church

Bandel Church History – Portuguese Ship

The return of the status of Our Lady of Happy Voyage signified a big celebration to give thanks to the miracles that the statue had brought to this church. During the closing of the celebration, people saw a Portuguese ship approaching from the south. The captain disembarked near the church and joined the closing celebrations. Once it was over the captain of the ship donated the flag mast of his ship and installed it in front of the church. This was done as the captain had prayed during a dangerous storm which the ship had faced at the Bay of Bengal. He had prayed to keep the ship and his shipmates safe from the storm that threatened them.

Bandel Church (14)
Captain of the Portuguese Ship Installing the Mast outside the Church

This is a critical information that I had to research and cross check over several documents and finally come to this conclusion that the word “Bandel” from which we get “Bandel Church” actually came from the word “Mastro de Bandeira” In Portuguese this word means the Flag Post. As a ship’s captain it’s an honour to give the ships flag as it represents the kingdom or the king that the ship represents. The word “Bandeira” slowly got transformed in the word “Bandel” and it stuck.

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Types of Portuguese ships that operated in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century (You Can Clearly See the Flag Mast on These Ships Which Resembles the One at Bandel Church)

History – Visit of Pope John Paul

The church with the support of the emperor Shah Jahan had now enough money as well as land to flourish. Slowly down the years a number of schools and seminaries were added around the church. In 1988 during the visit of Pope John Paul II visit to Calcutta, he declared the church as a basilica. The church went through a major facelift in the 1990’s when the entire church was covered with marble and granite.

Differest Sections within Bandel Church

The church is not that big when compared with other major churches in Bengal like St. Pauls Cathedral. It’s rather small but it’s really impressive when you see the overall size of the campus. There is a huge open field in front of the church which used to have a direct access to the Hooghly River. I remember when we were you we used to often see guests and general public sometimes enjoying a picnic over there. Over the years, these have been restricted and a boundary wall has been constructed on the campus.

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The Open Field In Front Of the Church

In the last one year, the church has made many significant changes to the place by adding some beautiful murals on the wall. Some new grottos have also been constructed making this place quite nice to spend some time contemplating.

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New Murals on the Wall
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A Newly Installed Grotto

The mast which was installed and remain erected in front of the church for centuries till a storm in the year 2010. A large tree got uprooted and fell on the mast causing it to crack and fall down. A major restoration work was taken and now again the visitors can see the mast in a glass enclosure.

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The Mast in Its New Glass Enclosure

It’s a tradition to light candles at the church and I always prefer to buy them from the shop inside the church compound which is run by the nuns. This way the money spent will go back as a contribution towards the church.

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Entrance to the Church from the Open Field Side
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Corridors inside the Church

The main church is off limits to the general public during a mass but is free to visit and spend time inside in silence throughout the day. Photography inside the church is prohibited and one can spend hours looking at the beautiful paintings depicting the life of Christ. One can also see the statue of Our Lady of Happy Voyage at the altar which is beautifully decorated.

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Inside Of the Main Church – Altar Can Be Seen At the Distance
Some of the Graves Belonging To the Church Priests inside the Church Compound
Some of the Graves Belonging To the Church Priests inside the Church Compound

Another common place to spend time is in the courtyard in front of the grotto with a fountain. Some pray put here and light a candle while others drop a coin in the fountain with a wish in their heart.

Grotto in the Centre Courtyard
Grotto in the Centre Courtyard
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Grotto in the Centre Courtyard

The stairs around this central courtyard take you to the rooftop of the main church. Here you will see another shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Happy Voyage. Personally, this is my favourite spot and spend the maximum time here praying and then enjoying the beautiful 360-degree view that you get from here.

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Shrine Dedicated to Our Lady of Happy Voyage
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Shrine Dedicated to Our Lady of Happy Voyage
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Shrine Dedicated to Our Lady of Happy Voyage

I keep imagining the captain of the ship carrying the large flag pole word “Mastro de Bandeira” along with his crew from the Hooghly River at the distance on the horizon.

This blog was part of my Chinsurah series. My next blog will be on Hanseswari Temple so keep watching this space.

Dutch CemeteryClock TowerImambara

Bandel Church – Hanseswari Temple – Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque & Dargah

Bandel Church – Early 20th Century – Curtsey Old Indian Photos
Portuguese Eastern Empire in the 16th And 17th Century – Curtsey Wikpedia (Public Domain)
A View of Chinsura the Dutch settlement in Bengal by W. Hodges – Curtsey British Library
Shah Jahan at his Durbar – Curtsey Wikpedia (Public Domain)
Types of Portuguese ships that operated in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century – Curtsey Wikpedia (Public Domain)

13 thoughts on “Guide to Bandel Church

  1. Interesting. Portuguese came to India much before English. They also constructed a Church near Keshtopur Nala. But I am not sure whether it has been taken by CNI these days. Please let me know on my shared email if you get any details regarding Portuguese Church near Keshtopur. Regards.
    Thank you for sharing this brief details.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The list of churches under CNI (Calcutta Diocese) are listed on their official website and i did not find any reference. However I am not sure what name the church is listed.


  2. Today(24/12/17) I saw a news in STAR ANANDA, reporter showing Bandel Church with lots of gatherings (mostly visiters). In his version he told that the original church was destroyed & new one was built in 1640. I heard from the anchor that the chief Priest was taken to Shah Jahan for killing under elephant’s feet. But the elephant dint kill him , but behaved otherwise. The priest got mercy from Emperor. It insisted me to search in net for authenticity. And I got everything , mainly from your blog. I am much impressed. I will see your other blogs sometime. I saw today’s pictures. Travelers praying to God with candles & utmost respect. Perhaps they dont know about your Grand Father’s blessing story. Such respect to other religion is real learning. I also learnt a lot from your blog. Thanks.. Remain well …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: An Auspicious Visit to the World Famous Bandel Church

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