Those who know a bit of history, will remember that our city, Bombay (now, Mumbai), was part of the Portuguese Colonies, which was later gifted to the British in marriage, as dowry. This is how Bombay had the unique situation of being introduced to Christianity by two different countries. While the British were Protestant and more interested in business, the Portuguese sent out missionaries who accompanied the invading armies and focused on the proclamation of the faith. Thus the geo-political situation in the early years of Christianity, in the Bombay islands and the surrounding areas on the mainland, led to the governance of the church that came under the jurisdiction of Goa (1534-1720), a Portuguese colony. Churches under this governance were referred to Padroado. As the British began to exert their authority, mainly between 1720 to 1789, they established churches which came under the Apostolic Vicariate of Bombay, referred to as Propaganda. This dual set-up, caused by the double jurisdiction, resulted in years of conflict and division in the church that was to last until 1928. It is important to understand this situation as the Church of the Most Holy Rosary was established during the height of this conflict. The area of Mazagaon / Byculla was blessed with two churches on account of the conflict, namely Gloria Church and Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.
a tale of two churches
OUR LADY OF GLORY
Whenever the history or the demographics of Bombay are spoken about, various references have been made to the Old Gloria Church of Mazagaon.
The First Missionaries of Bombay were Franciscans who built several churches. After being granted official recognition and support, the first church they build was Nossa Senhora da Esperança before 1570. The second church built by Franciscans in Bombay was the church of Nossa Senhora da Gloria in 1572.
It was from 1794 that the Gloria Church of Mazagaon became the main church of the Padroado in Bombay under the jurisdiction of Goa. It was sometimes referred to as the Padroado Cathedral. Mazagaon was initially a fishing village that was separated from the islands of Bombay by a creek. Around 1547 it had been allotted in fief by D. João de Castro to D. Antonio Pessoa who, at his death in 1572 bequeathed it in perpetuity - along with a manor house and private chapel attached to it - to his son-in-law Lionel de Souza. From then on the De Souza Lima family became the leading family in Mazagaon and were the benefactors of the shrine. It has been recorded that in 1595, at a baptism in Mazagaon conducted by the Franciscan friars, more than 3000 inhabitants, probably the Kolis, were baptized, which is why the church was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate the increasing population.
Mazagaon used to be a fashionable locality for decades and a number of fine bungalows came up, occupied by the wealthy. However, the church continued to minister to its many parishioners, including several immigrant Goans who were struggling to make a living, working in the vicinity and residing in many kudds (chawls). The Church of Our Lady of Glory was thereafter, on several occasions, enlarged and was finally rebuilt in 1810 on the original site which had existed for around 340 years. The church of Nossa Senhora da Gloria held a unique place among the various churches and chapels in Bombay, for it owed its beginning to the layman. What started off as a small chapel later became the chief church.
As Mazagaon started to gain importance and the population grew in number (Portuguese deckhands or the Koli converts), the chapel proved to be inadequate at that time. The widow of Lionel de Souza Lima, had the chapel pulled down and later built a church on the same site. Later, between 1660 and 1671, Christovoa de Souza de Tavora enlarged the Church at his own expense. This church was pulled down in 1810 and was rebuilt, due to its dilapidated condition. On several occasions, the church underwent various repairs and modifications.
In 1880, a notice published in the Government Gazette sought the exploration of the site on which the Church and the Parochial House stood. This acquisition was notified as a need for public utilities and public purposes. Thus the land which fell under the area of the proposed Bombay Port Trust Railway was notified for compulsory acquisition under the Compulsory Acquisition Act, and with due legal process in place, the original site of the Gloria Church was eventually handed over to the Port Trust authorities. The church building was pulled down for laying the railway tracks and, in exchange, the authorities handed over the land, in Byculla, on which the present Gloria Church stands. Inaugurated in 1913, this elegant gothic structure of the new Gloria Church serves as a reminder of its own glory days.
In 1924, ‘Anderson House’ was constructed on the original site of the old Gloria church. The main Cross of the Church was retained as a mark of the original site. However, two years later (1926) this too was removed and re-erected to its present site at Hospital Lane, D’Lima Street and is currently known as ‘The Old Cross of Mazgaon, D’Lima Street’. On the left side of the cross are words inscribed on a marble tablet.
This old Gloria Church Cross which formerly stood on the site now occupied by Anderson House, was removed on 29.5.1926 to the present location granted by the Bombay Port Trust and the cost of the erection was borne by public subscription.
OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY
The origin of Our Lady of the Rosary at Eastern Mazagon is directly linked to the introduction of the Double Jurisdiction in Bombay. Till 1794, there was but only one church in Mazgaon - that of Our Lady of Glory. But later, when Gloria Church came under the Padroado jurisdiction in March 1794, the fisher folk community, who comprised most of the congregation of the church, asked the governor in April that year to allow them to remain under the Vicar-Apostolic of Bombay. According to a story mentioned in a manuscript (Source: Fr. Leslie Ratus: Directory of 1983), the fisherfolk built the church of Our Lady of the Rosary with their own money because Sir Michael de Lima would not allow them to hear Mass in Gloria Church. Whatever may have been the cause, their withdrawal from Gloria Church meant coming over to the Vicar-Apostolic's jurisdiction.
The Government acceded to their request and permitted them to build a new church and cemetery at Mazagaon, a few meters away from Gloria Church. It appeared that the work of constructing the second church began right away.
There are two documents which fix the date of the event, the first is a set of government letters dated 1794, concerned with a piece of land asked for by the Christian inhabitants of Mazagaon for erecting a building for the performance of their religious worship. Second, in the Register of Rosary Church, the first baptism recorded is in June 1794 and the earliest dated tombstone is of 1798. The church seems to have been completed by the end of 1794.
The wall around the church was built later in 1899, marking the boundary of the church.
The Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary always remained under Propaganda and the charge of the secular clergy, except for a short period when a Jesuit, Fr. Antonio Pereira was its Vicar from 1864 to 1875.
the architecture of the old church
The old church had comparatively smaller dimensions. There were three altars within the church, each having a different significance. The ‘central altar’ comprised the sanctuary (tabernacle), the altar itself and the statue of Our Lady. The altars on either sides of the main altar were adorned by the Corpse (Body) of Christ and the Holy Family. All the altars had intricate work and were painted in gold giving them a very magnificent appearance. There was also a pulpit at a height from which the priest would read out the Gospel and give daily sermons. The church had beautiful paintings. At the entrance of the church were graves of parishioners and one would have to walk over the graves to get into the church. Some of the graves were inside the church as well. The church had three doors for the congregation, two at either sides of the church and one at the southern end of the church. At the northern part of the church was a door that led the sacristy. This was more like a godown where most of the things were kept, a cupboard for the priest vestments, etc. The church would also make its own hosts in the sacristy. At the southern entrance of the church was a porch; the part of the porch that was inside the church (terrace) was for the choir which led the congregation during the service, and the outer part of the porch was a beautiful attraction which was used on auspicious celebrations (sacraments) to congratulate the concerned people with flowers. The premises of the church were surrounded with different fruit bearing trees. There was also a school which was housed in a long hall/shed which also displayed a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Behind the church was a small house for the malis/helpers of the church. The priest’s quarters were comparatively smaller, and consisted of three rooms.
msgr stanislaus pereira and the new church
It was later, between 1924-25, that the church was extended to accommodate the increasing number of people, and consecrated by the Bishop of Mysore on February 14, 1926. This church was completely remodelled inside and out during the Vicarship of Msgr. Stanislaus Pereira to give it a modern appearance. Msgr. Stanislaus spent nearly 20 years (1953-1974) at Our Lady of the Rosary and brought about many changes for the benefit of the parishioners.
It was a stormy night which led to a section of the school’s ceiling caving in. While everyone was worried and sad about the incident, Msgr. Stanislaus took this as God’s sign to start his mission. He first started to build the school and later went on to build the church and rectory. The old church was comparatively smaller and could not accommodate the growing number of parishioners. The new church was built in two years and went through many modifications. The dimension and height of the church was increased. It is said that the ceiling of the church was elevated in order to construct a balcony with benches for parishioners. However, due to insufficient funds this was left undone. Our Lady's statue was moved from the altar to the southern entrance of the church so that people could see the statue from the road and station. The center altar and tabernacle were preserved. Despite, all the construction work, Masses were held inside the church, irrespective of the occasion. The new rectory was built in 1966-67, in order to accommodate the priests who were posted to the parish as the previous rectory was inadequate and ill-ventilated.
The church, school and rectory went through major repairs and restoration to ensure the continued preservation of the edifices.
The funds to build the new church were donated by generous parishioners, the Sodalities as well as various institutions.
Even today, Msgr. Stanislaus Pereira is highly spoken about, especially because of his generosity towards the parishioners of Mazagaon. It is said that in order to build the church Msgr Stanislaus used his own funds. Even though people would complain about the many times he asked for donations, he used his share of his family legacy to remodel the church. His was a very positive outlook to every problem that arose in connection with the remodelling; he was open to criticism but one had to prove where he was wrong! He would also conduct community oriented activities that would allow parishioners to interact with each other and work together. From the day he took charge till his last breath, Msgr Stanislaus lived for his parish and so it was decided to bury him in the church premises to honour his service and dedication.
On his grave the following words are inscribed:
In grateful memory of the Rev. Msgr Stanislaus Pereira, born 13th November 1910, ordained 20th August 1937, died 16th March 1974. Parish Priest of Rosary Church 1953-1974. Rebuilt the church, the school and the rectory.
other historical legacies
THE STATUE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA
This statue was inside the old school and is considered to be very miraculous. This is because during the incident when the school ceiling caved in, everything inside was damaged but this statue was not affected. Even after the new school was built, many demanded that this statue should be kept near the school as a sign of protection.
In 1954, the National Marian Congress was held in Bombay during the Marian Year. The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was taken around to many churches in Bombay. In order to welcome this statue, various parishes raised funds to decorate the church as well as make it a grand celebration.
The parishioners of Rosary Church have always been vibrant and ever-ready to provide their services to a church that serves as a centre that unites the community.
Earlier, the church functioned through different associations which were then called Sodalities. There were five different Sodalities, the Young Men, the Young Ladies, the Girls, the Ladies’ (English) and Konkani Sodalities. Each Sodality had its own area of operation and would conduct meetings for the various activities held in the church. The parish fete was one of the most awaited events of the parish. Each sodality would put up a stall to sell their speciality and this money was given to the church. For instance, the Konkani Sodality would sell Goan sweets (bebinca, doce), pattice. while the Ladies’ Sodality, mainly East Indian, would make milk toffees, and other confectionary. However, it was later decided to give each Sodality a specific occasion, as credit was only given to a few and not the ones who worked hard. The Konkani Sodality took care of the Parish Feast stalls, while the Ladies’ Sodality would prepare stalls for Easter. Apart from this, they would also conduct different competitions such as ‘King and Queen of the Rosary Church’, fancy dress, etc. These activities helped develop a sense of communal growth among the people and also helped youngsters to interact within the community.
The parish priest also plays a crucial role in moulding the community. A apart from the fete, Msgr. Stanislaus would take the parishioners on picnics to different places, all free of cost. He would take care of every need, from travelling to food arrangements. For auspicious occasions, when the Cardinal was invited to the Parish, families would come together and prepare a grand meal and would also distribute it amongst one another. This evoked a sense of sharing among the people. Fr. Trevor who was Parish Priest of ‘Rosary’ from 1978-81, was also known for the various activities he conducted in the parish, especially for the youth. It was his interest in the Press which initiated the parish bulletin.
The Sunday School was one of the main attractions that brought people to church. The Sunday School would conduct many skits, concerts, percussion bands and plays, which motivated parents to send their children to Sunday School in order to participate in these activities. Parents would then come to watch their children perform, and this would keep them connected to the church.
Overall, the people of the community have been helpful and have always wanted to give back to the church and each other. The priests also played an important role in bringing out these qualities among the people. The different Sodalities would constantly help each other and even the people around their area, to fulfil their needs – truly a ‘Rosarian’ community in word and deed.