GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (9)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Sebastião Manrique, an Augustinian missionary and a Portuguese traveler, visited Dhaka in September 1640 and stayed there for about twenty-seven days. According to him, the city stretched along the Buriganga River for more than four and a half miles; from Maneswar to Narinda and Fulbaria. Several Christian communities lived around these suburbs to the west, east and north of the heart of the metropolis. Manrique also mentions the existence in Dhaka of “a small but beautiful church with a convent.” Here are his words: “This is the principal city of Bengal and the seat of the principal of the Nababo or viceroy, appointed by the emperor, who conferred this viceroyalty on several occasions to one of his sons. It is situated on a beautiful and wide plain, on the banks of the famous, and here very generous, river Ganges, beside which the city stretches for more than a league and a half.”

The missionary had been there before, describing in detail at the time a temple run by the Augustinians, apparently destroyed at the end of the eighteenth century, and situated at the present site of the Catholic cemetery of Narinda in central Dhaka. A visit to the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Tejgaon (Tesgão, in Portuguese), a building that deserves restoration works financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, is almost obligatory. In the vicinity there is a significant increase in the presence of rickshaws (also in constant traffic) and many people walk, which can be explained by the existence of several schools nearby.

The cemeteries are, as a rule – a trade as a researcher, so compelling – the places where I first address myself in the cities I do not know, in search of Portuguese nicknames on funeral boards. But no, there is no Portuguese name in the Tejgaon cemetery, only portraits of the deceased. Jennifer Dias, a nurse by profession, daughter of Paul Dias and Iris Dias, and “two brothers and four sisters.” My presence attracts the attention of other parishioners, among them the talkative Mark Gomes. He tells me that Narinda’s cemetery, mentioned by Sebastião Manrique, no longer exists. “It was entirely covered by the sedimentation of the Buriganga River. There is no sign”, he says. Before, there was “a church called Harmony” and next to it the mentioned cemetery. They accompany Mark Gomes to Rosario, Cruz and Cunha, all of them Catholics. The land annexed to the church of Our Lady of the Rosary congregates not only Roman Catholics but also Baptists, witnesses of Jehovah and other confessions. “In this neighborhood live more than 800 families, mostly Catholic,” says Gomes. “All of them Christians, but of different kinds”.