Of Miracles and Hopes – Bandel Church

miracle (ˈmɪrək(ə)l/noun : A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being (a deity), magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader.

Every Christmas, about 40 km from Kolkata, the sleepy little town of Bandel by the river Hooghly comes alive with lakhs of people congregating at Bandel Church, one of the oldest and prominent churches in eastern India. Read more > Our Lady of Good Voyage at Bandel. Built in 1599, it is dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Our Lady of the Rosary. The Rosary is a Prayer of Hope – Symbolic of the Roman Catholic veneration of Mother Mary.  The primary attraction of the church, is the statue of Mary located in a niche close to the top of the façade which is believed  to brings good luck to people and is revered by the locals. The church is considered a place of miracles and there are many lores that make one belief.

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The first one is associated with the origin of the church – once a part of the Portuguese colony, the 400 years old church was established by Portuguese settlers who followed the Dutch, British and the French to set up a base near the Hooghly as a trading port. The Augustinians Friars started spreading Christianity and setup a church in 1599 and was known by the name Church of the Holy Rosary.

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When the Mughal forces under Shah Jahan attacked the Hooghly port, Father Joan Da Cruz was the lone survivor left following the demolition of he church and killing of the other Friars. Though he could not save the church from demolishing, he tried to save the statute of Mary and entrusted one of his follower, Tiago to swim across the Hooghly River and take it to a safe location. Tiago did not succeed and fell to arrows from the Mughal army. The statue sank into the river and was considered lost.

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Father Joan Da Cruz was arrested and  taken to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who was stationed in Agra, for trials. Shah Jahan sentenced Father Joan and his followers to death  by his elephants trampling. On the day of the sentence,  a large crowd  gathered along with the emperor to watch when a miracle unfolded right in front of their eyes. The ferocious elephants, lifted Father Joan on its back and bowed in front of the emperor as if to beg for forgiveness. The emperor was held in disbelief and ordered release of Father Joan and his men and donated money from his royal coffers to have them rebuild the church over 777 bigha of land where the rebuilt church in 1660, where till date it stands.

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The church was rebuilt but the statue was still missing. One night Father Joan Da Cruz heard a sounds and light rays coming from the river. This voice is said to be of Tiago who  said “Our Lady”, the saviour of the followers from the Mughals, was returning back. The next morning, the local fishermen came to the priest and said that “Guru Maa”, or “the blessed mother”, had come back. To his surprise, Father Joan found a cross on the field and the lost statue a few yards away.

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The other legend is around the name of the church (and the town) as ‘Bandel’ derived from the portugese word for the ‘mast’. in 1660,  a Portuguese ship whose sail was torn in a storm drifted into the river and ended up in Bandel. During the storm, the ship’s captain had pledged to offer the main mast of the ship to the first church he sighted. The captain kept his word and the mast can still be seen in the compound of the Bandel Church. ‘Our  Lady of Good Voyage’ had another miracle for her loved followers

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The tales of hope and miracles might have been passed down time over years but what would otherwise explain the crowd of devotee and believers, that come here to wish for miracles and light a candle to the Our lady of Good Voyage.

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