Oldest Roman Catholic Church of West Bengal: Bandel Church

Bandel Church also known as Basilica of the Holy Rosary got its status “minor basilica” is one of the oldest kirks of Bengal. This church is located in Bandel (Hugli District or Hoogly District), the early seat of Portuguese East India Company.

Bandel Church is one of the oldest Roman Catholic Christian churches stands as a cenotaph to the Portuguese settlement in early Bengal. Basilica of the Holy Rosary was was founded in 1599, dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Our Lady of the Rosary.

Bandel Church is also a parish church; part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta (St. Paul’s Cathedral). It is one of the most prominent historical churches in West Bengal as well as in our country.

It was 16th Century when the Portuguese traders came to Bengal to expand their trade. At that time Portuguese began using Bandel as a major port. During 1571, they were given permission by Mughal Emperor Akbar to build a town in Hooghly area. Now this Hoogly is one of the major districts in West Bengal. By time, Hugli became the business seat of Portuguese East India Company, French East India Company and the British East India Company.

As the Portuguese traders began settling around Hoogly, their priests began to baptize the natives – by 1598, Catholics in Hooghly numbered around five thousand, including natives and mixed races.

In the year 1579, the Portuguese built a port on the banks of the Hooghly, as well as a fort, and enlisted the services of a band of Augustinian Friars, then the largest religious body in Goa. The following year, Captain Pedro Tavares obtained the Emperor Akbar’s full permission to preach the Catholic faith publicly, and erect some churches in this region. Thus the Bandel Church came to be constructed in 1599.

This first church was burnt down during the sacking of Hooghly by the Moors in 1632. A newer church, constructed by Gomez de Soto was built over the ruin in 1660. The keystone of the older church can still be seen on the eastern gate of the monastery, bearing the date 1599. On November 25, 1988, Pope John Paul II declared the sanctuary near Bandel Church as a “minor basilica”.

A ship’s mast stands in front of the church; it was presented to the church by the captain of a vessel that had encountered a storm in the Bay of Bengal, and its rescue was attributed to Mother Mary, the divine of Jesus Christ. The church has three altars, several tombstones, an organ, and a shrine to Mary.

Bandel Church has separate rooms for the Christians and non Christians also. It has a large bell which marked the time. An errand in this temple of Christians is surely a religious and historical treat. You can visit Hoogly Imambara, Hangsheshwari temple, the Dutch Cemetery, Halisahar Ghat, Chandannagore Strand and the architectural splendour of Chandanangore. You can visit this spot by travelling a train from Sealdah and Howrah.  From Sealdah, you need to reach Naihati Railway Station, where the House of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhayay is located. Then you need to take the train that are going via Hoogly Ghat. Or From Howrah, you need to take the train going to Bandel (Howrah to Bandel Local).

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