GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (96)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The English liberal politician – also a lawyer, journalist, historian and writer – Ewan Cotton, in his work Calcutta: Old and New, The Century in India 1800–1900, published for the first time in 1909 and to this day a major reference to the history of that megapolis, wrote the following note: “The Portuguese church, the main attraction of Bandel, is the oldest place of Christian worship in Bengal. It was founded in 1599, the year Queen Elizabeth sanctioned the establishment of the East India Company. The building would be burnt to the ground during the Mongol attack on Hugli in 1632. The 1599 cornerstone, however, would remain and would be incorporated into the gate of the new church built by João Gomes de Soto in 1661. It is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and includes a monastery occupied by Augustinian friars, the last of whom died in 1869.

Local Catholics still enjoy, free of charge, 380 of the 777 bigghahs [measure used in the Indian subcontinent] initially granted by Shah Jahan. In November, during the novena to Our Lady of Good Voyage, the church was full of pilgrims.”

Note that this still happens today. And many of these pilgrims are Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. There they gather to thank Our Lady of the Rosary and celebrate her miracles.

There is yet another interesting episode associated with the Bandel church. In 1655, during the celebrations that marked the fifth year of the new church’s existence, a large Portuguese ship appeared in the Hugli river bar. It was badly damaged, as it had faced a severe storm in the Gulf of Bengal and its captain, a very devout man, had promised the Virgin one of the ship’s masts, if all survived. It happened and the sailor kept his word.

Shortly after docking at Hugli’s wharf, he cut the mast and offered it to the city. This mast would be deployed at the entrance to the temple and would remain there until May 9, 2000.

A powerful cyclone knocked over a tree that fell on the mast and divided it in two. It was as if the storm that had previously affected the vessel in the Gulf of Bengal had returned to complete the work left unfinished… The remains of the mast would be deposited in a giant glass box embedded in the wall, and they are still there today so all visitors can see it.