A religion that was established way back in the 6th century AD in India and now holds the distinctive rank of being the third largest religion after Hinduism and Islam is nothing other than Christianity. As the religion prospered over the years, many beautiful churches were built in India. These churches have magnificent architecture and breed a sense of sanctity. These places of worship are thronged by tourists and visitors all the year round.
Here is a list of some of the most popular churches in India:
1. Sé Cathedral
Place: Old Goa
History: The church was built in the 16 century. The construction of the church began in 1562 and was completed in 1619.
Legend: It was built to commensurate the victory of Portuguese under a Muslim army which eventually led to the capture of Goa city. This was in the year 1510. The victory day happened to be the day of the feast of Saint Catherine and hence the church is dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria.
Significant features: This church ranks among the largest churches in Asia. It is 250m in length and 181ft in breath and the front has a height of 115ft. The architecture style of the church is a beautiful mixture of Portuguese, Gothic, Tuscan and Corinthian. The main altar of the church has several paintings on both sides dedicated to St. Catherine.
There are four chapels inside the church around the main altar. These are separated by exquisite carved wooden partitions. The chapel on the right side of the altar is known as the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles. It is believed that Christ had appeared in 1919 in this Chapel. Sé Cathedral church is also known for housing the largest bell in Goa in its tower. The rich colour tone on the bell is noteworthy and hence it is also known as the Golden bell.
2. Parumala Church
Place: Mannar in Kerala
Legend: Named after the great Saint Gregorious Geevarghese, who was also known as Parumala Thirumeni, it is his tomb. This is a Parish church of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. St. Gregorious died on 2 November, 1902 at the age of 54 and his funeral took place at Parumala. It is said that thousands of people and priests attended his funeral. In 1947, Gregorious was blessed and declared a saint by the then Catholics of the church and the church was dedicated to him.
Significant features: It is one of the oldest churches of the world. The old church was renovated and redesigned by renowned architect Charles Correa. The church, at present, can accommodate about 2000 people. The new church is circular in design with three divisions by two chords each of 16m length. The diameter of the circular design is 39m. It is believed that the church has some great powers and worshippers come from all parts of the country to pray at this divine church.
Celebrations: Every year, usually in the month of November, the church celebrates Parumala Perunnal festival or the feast festival as a tribute and remembrance of the death anniversary of Bishop Mar Gregorios Metropolitan.
3. Basilica of Bom Jesus
History: Around 300 years old
Legend: It is dedicated to Jesus Christ and named “Bom Jesus” which means “good Jesus” or “infant Jesus”. It holds the remains of St. Francis Xavier and the mummified and preserved body is opened for the public at a particular time of the year when thousands of devotees from India and outside flock to this church to pay their respects to the great saint.
Significant features: Declared as a world heritage site by the UNSECO. It is one of the most iconic symbols and the most visited tourist spot of Goa. The church is built in the signature Baroque style. At the top of the façade, there are the letters ‘HIS’ which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek. The flooring is made of marble, inlaid with precious stones. Elaborated gilded golden work highlights the altar of the church. The church also has a museum.
Celebrations: The feast of St. Xavier is celebrated every year on 3rd December in the honour of his death. Every ten years, the mortal remains are taken down for public reverence around Old Goa. This year in January 2015, thousands of Catholic pilgrims came down to old Goa to witness the once-a-decade exposition of the saint.
4. Malayatoor Church
Place: Cochin, Kerala
History: Dates back to 52 AD and is among one of the oldest churches of India.
Legend: It is dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle who it is believed introduced Christianity in Kerala. Legend says that during prayers, St. Thomas touched a rock after which blood came out of it.
Significant features: One of the most prominent Christian pilgrimage spots declared by the Vatican. Situated on top of the 609m-high Malayatoor Hill in Kerala, it has a life-size statue of St. Thomas. There are also foot imprints of the Apostle on a rock in the church.
Celebrations: Malayatoor Perunal Festival is celebrated every year in the church in the month of March / April, just after Easter. Devotees from around the globe flock to this church by climbing up the hill, chanting the name of the Apostle.
5. Velankanni Church
Place: Located on the beach of Bay of Bengal, in the Velankanni town of Tamil Nadu.
History: Originated in the 16th century.
Legend: Famous for its Basilica that is dedicated to ‘Lady of Health’ or “Lady of Vailankanni” – the Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is believed that whosoever visits this church and offers prayers to the Mother is cured of his or her illness. Here, candles in different shapes of body organs like heart, lungs etc. are available, based on the ailment of a person. Lighting a candle of a particular organ shape is believed to cure the devotee of that ailment.
Significant features: One among the most scared churches across the globe. This church is a great combination of multicultural, international and religious harmony. Not only Christians but also people following other religions visit this Church to pray. The Pope in the Vatican City has declared Vailankanni as a “Holy city” because of the shrine of ‘Lady of Health’. The Gothic style architecture is a unique feature of the Church. The shrine of the mother is interestingly dressed in the Indian saree. This is one among those few churches in the country where the deity is seen wearing an India costume. Prayers here are held in multiple languages.
Celebrations: Every year in the month of August / September, for a week or so, the Feast of Our Lady of Good Health is celebrated. The feast day prayers are said in various languages like Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Konkani, Hindi and English.
6. St Paul Cathedral
History: Built between 1839 and 1847
Legend: It is an Anglican cathedral of the Victorian age and is dedicated to St. Paul.
Significant features: The largest cathedral in Kolkata and the first Episcopal Church of Asia. The church is built in the Gothic Revival Style. It is 247ft. in height and 81ft. in width. It has beautiful arched windows with stained glass which gives a very beautiful look when the rays of the sun light up the inside of the church in myriad hues.
Celebrations: The midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a celebrated event every year and people of all religions are welcome. The church is lit up completely on this day and it proves to be a very amazing sight that one should not miss out on.
7. Santa Cruz Basilica
Place: Cochin, Kerala
History: It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1505. In 1558, the church was elevated to a cathedral by the then pope, Pope Paul IV. In 1984, it was renamed as Basilica by Pope John Paul II.
Legend: Dedicated to one of the eight Baslicas in the country.
Significant features: One among the oldest churches in India. A heritage monument of the state, it boasts of style architecture. It was built by the Portuguese. But later, it was revamped and redesigned by the British. There are many paintings inside the church; the most popular ones being the seven large canvas paintings, on the passion and death on the Cross. There is also the painting of the Last Supper, modelled on the famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci. The beautiful stained glass windows add an attractive look to the place.