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CHURCHES & SYNAGOGUES OF COLONIAL CALCUTTA – Portuguese Church

Portuguese Church Kolkata

The Portuguese traders arrived in Calcutta before the British and some of them settled near the bank of the River Hoogly. At the beginning they used to pray in a mud hut. Job Charnock had originally granted 10 bighas of land to the Roman Catholics of the Augustinian order to set up a Mass Hall in the area. But in 1693, when Sir John Goldsborough of the East India Company realized that the company’s Protestant members were converted to Roman Catholicism in the Mass Hall and taking native wives, he ordered them to vacate the place immediately. But they came back within six months, after the death of Goldsborough, and constructed a brick-built structure, a little further away from the original Mass Hall, to be used as their place of worship. Under the direction of Vicar Fari Francisco d’Avsumpaco, the Chapel was enlarged in 1720 by Mrs. Sebastian Shaw. But in 1756, when Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah attacked Calcutta, and the St. Anne’s Church was completely destroyed, the British again took over the Portuguese Chapel and began to conduct services there. However, after three years, the Chapel was handed over to the Portuguese by the order of the Court of Directors in London.

In 1759, the Portuguese community of Calcutta decided to construct a new dignified building for their church. Funds were raised for the purpose and the major portion of the fund was contributed by a well known Portuguese trader, Joseph Baretto. Designed by James Driver, the construction of the shrine was completed within three years. The new edifice with its two magnificent towers, topped with crown shaped cupolas, was consecrated on the 27th of November, 1799 and dedicated to Rosary Virgin Mary.

Portuguese Church Kolkata - 1826
Portuguese Church Kolkata – 1826
Portuguese Church Kolkata - Present Day
Portuguese Church Kolkata – Present Day

The Potuguese Church, formally known as The Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary, is located on the Portuguese Church Street, just at the crossing of Brabourne Road and Canning Street alias BRB Bose Road. Built in typical Catholic style, the Cathedral is adorned with a decorated pediment, supported on both sides by two uncommon domed towers and an extended portico with arched entrance way. The long colonnaded corridor leads to the beautifully decorated alter flanked with intricately decorated circular stained glass windows. The walls are lined with confession boxes and statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and various other Biblical characters along with the fairies and the angles. The walls are adorned with a number of memorial tablets, among them one to Archbishop of Calcutta, Paul Goethals, a Belgian who was Archbishop of Calcutta from 1886 to 1901. His vast and precious collection of books which he donated to the Jesuit Fathers of St. Xavier’s College on Park Street formed the Goethals Library, which exists even today. The Portuguese Church is the final resting place for one Mrs. Mary Carey, a survivor of the so called Black Hole Tragedy.

Portuguese Church Entrance Top Portion
Portuguese Church Entrance Top Portion
Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary, Portuguese Church
Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary, Portuguese Church
Portuguese Church, Kolkata inside (picture courtesy TripAdvisor)
Portuguese Church, Kolkata inside (picture courtesy TripAdvisor)
14 Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis
14 Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis

However, the superstar attraction of the Portuguese Church is the 14 Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis, which refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. Behind the altar, there is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, while the mortal remains of the first Archbishop of Calcutta lie below the altar.

Location of Portuguese Church

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee

Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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