We have all offered prayers to Christ, the Lord be it in schools or the beautiful churches and pretty much everybody has enjoyed to the fullest Christmas Eve, enjoyed Easter holidays and feats. But does it not fascinate you how Christianity is widely accepted and spread out in a Hindu-dominated country?
Christianity came to India when Apostle St. Thomas first reached the shores of Kerala. From then on with the help of the Jesuits and the Portuguese, it spread to most parts of South and later North India thus making it the second-largest religious minority in the country after Islam. It is believed that the Jesuits, because of their devotion to Christ the King, attained phenomenal healing powers and performed miracles that instilled deep faith in the hearts of people. As the number of Christian converts grew in the country, various churches were built by the missionaries, the Portuguese, and the British. But what are the oldest churches of all? Let’s find out:
St. Thomas Church, Palayuur
Thomas is the oldest church in India and was established in 52 A.D. in the Palayuur district of Kerala. It is also one of the seven churches founded by St. Thomas the Apostle himself. Legend has it that when St. Thomas reached Palayuur, he was delighted at the sight of Brahmins praying and offering water in the form of Tharpanam to the Sun God outside the Palayuur temple. He walked up to the Brahmins and said that their god is not accepting the water offered by them. He challenged the Brahmins that when he would throw the water up, his God would accept his offering and if it happened the Brahmins would have to acknowledge that his god is supreme and, thus, embrace Christianity. St. Thomas similarly converted many of the locals. The church is situated exactly where the Apostle had first built it and has a continuous history of a couple of millennia. The Church was elevated to the rank of the first Archdiocesan pilgrim centre in 2020. The church also houses relics of St. Thomas conveyed from Ortona, Italy. One famous event that takes place every year is the 30 km long annual Lenten Mahatheerthdanam on foot from Thrissur to Palayuur.
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Francis Church, Kochi
Francis Church is also known as the “Vasco Da Gama Palli” as Vasco Da Gama who died in 1524 during his third visit to Kochi was buried here. However, the Portuguese took his body back to Lisbon after 14 years. The church was built by the Portuguese after which it faced several invasions. The Dutch invaded Kochi in 1662 and converted it into their church by placing Dutch-style communion tables and furniture. However, the church was renamed and renovated by the British when the Dutch surrendered it to them after their defeat in the invasion of Kochi the latter in 1795. You will find the gravestones of the Portuguese on the wall in the north of the church and that of the Dutch on the wall in the south. The successors of the Church of England, the Church of South India (CSI) took over the administration of the church after Indian independence.
Santa Cruz Basilica, Kochi
Santa Cruz Basilica is a heritage edifice built in the Fort of Kochi which was established when a Portuguese fleet reached the shores of Kochi. The foundation of the cathedral was laid long back in 1505. It is said that the church got this name because the foundation was laid on the day of the invention of the Holy Cross. The status of the church was raised to a cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1598. This church also witnessed the same chronology of invasions. It was first captured by the Dutch who converted it into a storehouse for arms but was later partially destroyed by the British. One of the original granite pillars of the structure is still preserved in the new structure to date. It was not until 1984 that the church was granted Basilica status by Pope John Paul II. The most attractive features of this church are the paintings of Brother Antonio Moscheni and his disciple De Gama of Mangalore. The altar is adorned with Moscheni’s paintings of passion and death on the cross. Beautiful murals and frescos of Christ and pastel interiors give a more spiritual ambience to this place.
Se Cathedral, Goa
The Se Cathedral in Goa is one of the oldest and also largest churches in Asia. This church was built by the Roman Catholics during the Portuguese rule in Goa and it is considered larger than any of the Cathedrals in Portugal itself. The Church is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria as it was on the day of her feast that Alfonso Albuquerque defeated the Muslim army in Goa and established Portuguese rule in 1510. The Cathedral is a unique combination of Portuguese-Gothic style, Tuscan exterior and Corinthian interior. The plain exterior and intricately designed interior are the characteristics of this Cathedral. The walls of the Cathedral are painted with a scene from St. Catherine’s life and martyrdom. The church consists of a screened Chapel on the right of the nave which contains the “Cross of Miracles.” It is believed that a vision of Christ appeared on this cross in 1919. The church also houses the “golden bell” which is the largest in Goa and one of the best in the world because of its rich tone. It is also significant because St. Francis is said to have baptized many Goan converts using the fonts preserved in this cathedral.
Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa
The church is also known as Borea Jezuchi Bajilika and is a UNESCO heritage site. The Basilica contains the remains of St. Francis Xavier which were transported from Portugal 2 years after his death. The saint along with his close friend St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus also known as Jesuits. The saint was believed to have phenomenal healing powers and had a major role in the spread of Christianity in India. The meaning of the name of this 400-year-old church is “Church of the Holy Jesus.” It is a splendid baroque structure and has the initials “IHS” carved on the triangular roofing which is the abbreviation of the emblem of Jesuits, “Jesus, Saviour of Men” and above all is the holy trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Goa
The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate conception is built in the centre of Panaji, the Capital of Goa and is also often referred to as the “Crown of Panaji.” The original chapel was built in 1541 but was rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1619 into a church. The church is an adorable example of Portuguese-baroque and Goan architecture and is said to be in the shape of a “wedding cake.” The church has two tall towers and an even taller belfry. The bell was brought here from the Augustinian ruins of the Church of Our Lady of Grace. Our lady of Immaculate conception refers to the Virgin Mary who is believed to be blessed by the god with protection from the taint of original sin right from the time she was biologically conceived by her mother, St. Anne. This usually is delivered during baptism after birth. An important celebration in the church is the Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception on 8 December, 9 months before the birth of the Virgin Mary.
St. Andrew’s Church, Bandra
This is the oldest church to be built in Bandra about 400 years ago and is even older than the Taj by 38 years. It was built by the Portuguese along with St. Anne’s Church in the 16th Century CE. However, St. Anne’s church was destroyed in the Portuguese-Maratha war and it was St. Andrew’s that was the only church in Bandra till the 19th century. The monolithic stone cross in the south of the hall of the church, which is 17m tall, was brought from the ruins of St. Anne. The altars of the church are carved in the “flamboyant gothic” style that was popular among the Portuguese of the period. The altars are decorated with the 12 Apostles of Jesus, St Andrew being in the middle. The Apostles are accompanied by the Virgin Mary on the one side and Crucified Jesus on the other. The place has a very calming and spiritual environment and certainly a respite from the busy scenes of Bandra.
St. Andrew’s Basilica, Arthunkal
Andrew’s Basilica is named after St. Andrew but is dedicated to St. Sebastian. This Basilica is a famous pilgrimage site in South India not just for Christians but also for Hindus. Till 1560, there was a ban on Christian conversions; however, the first Vicar to Arthunkal Fr. Gasper Pious managed to get permission to build the church. But it was second Vicar Fr. Giacomo Fenecio SJ who converted the church which was earlier built-in wood into one made up of stone. He is also known as the Apostle of Arthunkal. Arthunkal rose to fame when the mortal remains of St. Sebastian were brought from Italy to this church. St. Sebastian was the captain of the bodyguards of Roman Emperor Diocletian but was brutally killed in 286 AC because of his undying faith in Christ. It is said that people of all beliefs and creeds, who were afflicted by epidemics, came to St. Sebastian and were miraculously cured. From then on, the church attracted many devotees to the feast of St. Sebastian which is celebrated from January 10 to 27 every year. People follow an ancient tradition of stopping at St. Sebastian after returning from Sabrimala, the abode of the Hindu deity Lord Ayappa. A procession with the statue of St. Sebastian is conducted on 20th January and eagles hover over it as a symbol of the care they provided to the wounded saint. St. Andrew’s was granted basilica status by the Holy See in 2010.
St. John’s Church, Meerut
John’s Church is the oldest Church in Entire Northern India and also one of the biggest churches with a seating capacity of almost 3000 people. The church was built in 1819 by the East India Company and comes under the diocese of Agra. The church was built when clergyman Rev. Henry Fischer wanted to serve the British army privately. Established at the confluence of religions and the historic revolts, it is built in the military cantonment area and thus has some military remnants as well. It is surrounded by lush greenery and has a very traditional style of architecture. The components of the church like pretty stained glasses, pews and kneelers, marble baptistery, and brass eagle lecterns date back centuries.
Christ Church, Shimla
Christ Church in Shimla is the second oldest church in Northern India after St. John’s. This particular church took around 11 years to complete. Built by the British, this church is a magnificent yellow building inspired by neo-gothic architecture and can be seen from far away areas of Shimla. When a large number of Anglo-Indians resided in the city of Shimla along with the British, they requested the British administration to build a church where they could offer prayers. The features that make this church so adorable are the front porch and the five stained glass windows representing the five virtues of Christianity: patience, faith, humility, hope, and charity. The church glows and looks like a majestic castle and has also been featured in films like Black 3 idiots.
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Velankanni Church, Tamil Nadu
Velankanni is one of the biggest and oldest churches in India which is situated in Tamil Nadu. Many Catholics call it “Lourdes of the East”. This church was built in 160 and became a basilica in 1962. This church is a hidden gem and you can see the gorgeous Velankanni seaside town from here.
St Paul Cathedral, West Bengal
This beautiful church was built in 1847 and it is popular for its Gothic architecture. It is the 1st Episcopal Church located in Asia. The stained glass windows are ethereal and the paintings inside the church make it even more beautiful. When the sunlight falls upon the windows, you will see a gorgeous spectacle of nature. This church was built to replace St. John’s Church.
Sacred Heart Church, Shimoga
At the end of the 17th century, the Paris Foreign Misson Societies assumed control of the Mysore mission. The civil districts of Shimoga, Chikkamagaluru and Chitradurga were then handed to the Fathers of the French Mission. In 1830, Shimoga was only a small church with a burial ground but in 1871 it was built as a new church and consecrated on 4th April 1975. This church is spread over a wide area of 18,000 sq ft and it is one of the largest churches in India.
Medak Cathedral, Telangana
It is one of the largest churches in Telangana and was founded on 25th December 1925. Medal Cathedral is 100 feet wide and 200 feet long. It can accommodate up to 5,000 people at one time making it one of the largest churches in India. The gothic mosaic tiles in the cathedral were brought from Britain and are made of 6 different colours. Italian masons from Bombay were hired to develop the decorative floor. The main attraction of this Cathedral is its stained glass window that takes you on the journey of Jesus Christ’s life.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral – Pondicherry
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral was built back in 179. It is a beautiful depiction of French architecture in India. At the entrance of the church, you will see a statue of Our Lady with infant Jesus in her arms. The interior has one central dome with 8 circular openings. It has a stunning décor and a mesmerizing setup where devotees sit, pray and find eternal peace.
Reis Magos Church, Goa
This church was built back in 1555 by Franciscan Friars. It is located in the Reis Magos village of North Goa. The Portuguese-styled church is one of the few old churches in India and it is dedicated to celebrating the Feast of the Three Wise Men annually. The tall and white monument standing amidst this peaceful village is one spectacle you can’t miss. The church saw the rule of ancient Portuguese dominance and some of its dark years are still etched on the walls. If you are visiting North Goa then you must visit this church.
Santhome Church, Chennai
Santhome Church is a very significant church in India historically and architecturally. It is located in Chennai and has a gorgeous Neo-Gothic style of architecture. The church has wooden roofs and domes of whitewashed spires which makes it picturesque. Along with the church, there is also a museum that has remnants from the older church.
Rosary Church, Shettihalli, Hassan
Back in 1860, the Rosary church was built in Shettihalli by the French Missionaries near the banks of river Hemvathy. In 1960, the Gorur dam was built nearby the church. After heavy rains, whenever the water level rises, the church is submerged in the water. During that time only the spire is seen.
St. George’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church, Kochi
This church is popular among Christians and non-Christians as well. The Church’s construction goes way back to 594 AD. In 1080 AD, a bigger church was built next to the old one to accommodate the congregation that had grown. Since then, the church has gone under several renovations and has a picture of the Virgin surrounded by other sculptures of angels. On the wall behind the altar, there is a painting of Heaven and a statue of St. George mounted on his horse, spearing the dragon can also be seen in the church.
St. Thomas Church, Guruvayoor
St Thomas is an ancient church in Guruvayoor which is one of the oldest Romo-Syrian churches in India and is also known as Apostolic Church as it is dedicated to St. Thomas, the apostle who spread the awareness of Christianity in the country. The church tells the story of St. Thomas and is popular for its 14 granite statues installed at the entrance of the church that depicts the various stages of St. Thomas’s life.
These places have an amazing ambiance and are, of course, open to people of all faith, caste, and creed. Even the locations of these places are quite attractive and people also visit them to get away from the fast-tracked life to find some peace in front of Jesus, our savior. Visiting these churches will give you a detailed insight into the life of Jesus, Christianity and Catholics.