A country that speaks a thousand dialects and that has been presided over by very different empires throughout its history, India recalls her past through glorious edifices sprawled throughout the nation and via the cultures that have been influenced in a bemusing number of ways by these ancient empires. Said to have been introduced in the nation in 52 AD by Thomas the Apostle, Christianity now has about 28 million followers here.
The religion has left an indelible mark on the cultures, traditions and architecture of India. Beautifully embellished churches adorn every city and town in the nation. We take a look at the ten most popular churches that India has to offer.
1. Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa
Situated in Old Goa, the erstwhile capital of the Portuguese dominion, Basilica of Bom Jesus is a historical site attracting visitors from all over the planet. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the basilica or “Borea Jezuchi Bajilika” retains the mummified remains of St. Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, who is also believed to have possessed inexplicable healing powers. Constructed from 1594 onwards, the church was consecrated in 1605 and has since seen thousands of visitors every year. Signifying a pure Baroque style architecture, the church is credited to be one of the oldest in the country and is breathtaking from the inside as well. One of the popular tourist spots in the state, any visit is a squander if this wondrous site is excluded.
2. Santa Cruz Basilica, Kerala
Situated at Fort Kochi in Kerala, Santa Cruz basilica is one of the eight basilicas in the country. Established in 1505 by Francisco de Almeida, the church was declared as a basilica by the then Pope John Paul II in 1984. Originally built by the Portuguese, it was elevated to the status of a cathedral in 1558 by Pope Paul IV. The church has been spared demolition many times throughout its history.
The Gothic architecture of the edifice is a sight to behold. One of the most stunning churches in India, it is also a one of the heritage sites in the country. Drawing visitors from all over the world, the site is a spiritually significant one apart from being an important historic destination. Boasting of wonderful paintings adorning the interiors, the altar has been decorated by the esteemed Italian painter, Fra Antonio Moscheni, S.J.. Depicting scenes from the ‘Via Crucis’ of Christ, there are various other frescoes and murals modeled on Christ and an imitation of the Last Supper adorning the walls of the basilica.
3. Reis Magos Church, Goa
Located in the Reis Magos village of the North Goa district in Goa, the dazzling Resi Magos Church rests on the banks of the Mandovi river. Built in 1555 by Franciscan Friars, this Portuguese-styled church is also known as the Church of the Three Magi Kings and one of the few churches in the country to be dedicated towards celebrating the Feast of the Three Wise Men annually.
A white monument standing tall amidst a quiet village, the church retains the memories of the rule of ancient Portuguese dominance, which are still etched on its walls. A tremendous sight, this dedication to St. Jerome sits right beside the Reis Magos Fort that was built just before the church.
4. St. Francis Church, Kerala
Built in 1503, St. Francis Church is the oldest European church in India. Constructed by the Portuguese, the church is of cultural and historic significance as it was a silent witness in the colonial struggle of Indians against the European dominance. The site also served as burial place for the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524. His remains were moved to Lisbon fourteen years later. A protected monument, the site is visited by thousands of devotees every year. A rather simple church, it was architecturally modified by the British and Dutch to resemble its current appearance.
5. Velankanni Church, Tamil Nadu
Hailed as the ‘Lourdes of the East‘, Velankanni Church or the church of Our Lady of Good Health, is located in the small coastal town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu. Popular throughout the nation, this is one of the very few churches in the country where Mother Mary is adorned in a traditional Indian saree. The church is also one of the biggest Catholic pilgrimage sites in the country. Constructed in Gothic style in 16th century, the church was granted the status of basilica in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
6. Se Catherine Church, Goa
The Se Cathedral or St Catherine Church, located in Old Goa, is another stunning antediluvian church that gathers huge crowds to it. Built according to the Portuguese – Manueline architecture style in 1619, the church is mainly dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria and also houses various paintings. Constructed by the Portuguese commemorating the victory over a Muslim Army that led to the capture of Goa in 1510, the Se Cathedral also houses a gigantic bell called the “Golden Bell”, which is one of the largest in the world.
7. San Thome Basilica, Tamil Nadu
A Roman Catholic basilica built in Santhome, Chennai, San Thome Basilica was constructed in the 16th century over the tomb of St. Thomas who was an apostle of Jesus. Renovated by the British in 1893, the church is designed in the Neo-Gothic style, a much favored architectural style of the British architects in the 19th century. A glorious sight, the white facade of the cathedral stands 201 feet tall and still retains the remains of St. Thomas. The interior of the basilica is beautifully adorned with paintings and frescoes. Now a national shrine, the church also boasts of a museum.
8. St. Paul Cathedral, West Bengal
One of the most beautiful churches in India, St. Paul Cathedral in Kolkata, is a breathtaking sight. Renowned for the Gothic architecture, it was constructed in 1847 and is the first Episcopal Church in Asia. Situated on the Cathedral Road or the “island of attractions”, the cathedral is a marvelous sight when the sun lights up the high rising arched glass windows. The frescoes and paintings within add to the wondrousness of the cathedral.
9. Kadamattom Church, Kerala
Situated in Moovattupuzha in Kerala, Kadamattom church is believed to have been founded in the 9th century AD by Mar Sabor, a Syrian monk with healing powers and knowledge of medical sciences. Constructed in the traditional Kerala architectural style, there are various legends about the church. Some believe that a little land was gifted to Mar Sabor after he cured a child of a wealthy family and he used that to build the church. The intricate carvings on the church add to the charming sight.
10. Vallarpadam Church, Kerala
Vallarpadam Church or the Baslica of Our Lady of Ransom is located in Ernakulam in Kerala. Established in 1503, the church is dedicated to St. Mary and comes under the category of a minor basilica. Associated with many legends and popular myths, it was constructed by the Portuguese and it is believed that Vasco Da Gama himself enshrined the church. A major pilgrimage site, this is the 20th Basilica in India and 8th in Kerala.