Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Bandel
The Rosary is a Prayer of Hope – Symbolic of the Roman Catholic veneration of Mother Mary. It comprises of 5 sets of 10 “Hail Mary” interspersed with “Our Father” prayers. In the year 1214 AD, Saint Dominic was handed over the Rosary by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This apparition is called as Our Lady of the Rosary – signifying ‘garland of Roses’.
It was when the Portuguese began using Bandel as a port in the sixteenth century that they were given permission by the Mughal Emperor Akbar to build a town in Hooghly. It was around this time that the priests began to baptize the natives and soon the Catholics in Hooghly numbered around five thousand.
The Augustinian Friars who were the largest religious body in Goa were enlisted by the Portuguese and soon the Emperor’s permission was obtained to preach the Catholic faith to the public. The time was ripe to build a church at Bandel, in the year 1599.
This first church of Bandel was burnt down by the Moors in 1632. As history reveals, Emperor Shah Jehan attacked and destroyed the Portuguese settlements including the church. Four out of the five priests were killed and lone Father Joan da Cruz survived. When Tiago, an ardent devotee of Mother Mary tried to carry her statue across the river to safety, he was killed by an enemy arrow. The statue sank into the river.
When Father da Cruz was captured along with other devotees and condemned to die by stampede of wild elephants by the then Emperor Shah Jehan, a miracle occurred. The elephant stood in front of the priest and lifted him aloft with his trunk and placed him on his back. He also knelt before the Emperor with the priest on his back and asked for mercy. This miracle impressed the Emperor so much that he set the prisoners and Father Cruz free.
It was after the miracle that Shah Jehan changed his mind and donated about 101.21 hectares to the local Christians, and a new church was constructed by Gomez de Soto in the year 1660 over the ruins. The keystone foundation of the ancient church remains in the eastern gate of this beautiful church.
HISTORY OF BANDEL BASILICA
The story of Bandel begins with the first Portuguese settlements in Bengal. Most historians agree that in 1537 an Admiral Sampayo entered the river Hooghly with nine Portuguese vessels to support Muhammad Shah, the Pathan Nawab of Gaur who being hard pressed by the famous Sher Khan, had asked the Portuguese representative in Goa for assistance. As a reward for their efforts the Nawab allowed the Portuguese to set up a factory at a spot close to the present Hooghly jail.
In 1579 the Portuguese constructed a port on the bank of the river Hooghly. It became a centre of trade and commerce. To protect their interest they built a fort. They soon secured the religious services of a small band of Augustinian friars from Goa. About the year 1580, a certain Captain Pedro Tavares, a great favourite of the Moghul emperor Akbar, obtained from him full liberty to preach the Christian faith publicly and to erect churches. In 1599 monastery and church were established at Bandel, a village about a mile from the factory.