When I think of churches, I invariably think of Italy and England. Bombay aka Mumbai? Nope. Not at least until I moved to this city.
Bombay has some of the most beautiful churches I have come across. Some grand, others unassuming and humble. And the most beautiful of all I chanced to walk into this weekend – the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Name in Colaba, South Bombay.
Though only 4.2 percent of Bombay’s population is Christian, the city is no stranger to the religion. Christianity in Bombay can be traced back to nearly 2,000 years with the earliest being the East Indians, an ethno-religious group who were converted to Christianity by St. Bartholomew, one of Christ’s 12 apostles. These, along with others were further converted to Roman Catholicism by the Jesuit missionaries with the advent of the Portuguese in Bombay following the signing of the Bassein Treaty in 1534. The Portuguese hold was replaced with that of the British from 1662 onwards and the resulting Protestant missionaries from England and North America.
A notable legacy of these historical movements are the churches in Bandra and South Bombay. These edifices are woven into the very fabric of the city’s life, the warp and the woof, getting more strengthened with the passing years. They are a place for reflection and spiritual union, celebration and praise, where the parishioners gather for worship, receive the sacraments, and are part of a community.
The Cathedral of the Holy Name is one such parish church. It is also the seat of the Archbishop of Bombay and headquarters of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Bordered by the Fort Convent, Cathedral House, and Archbishop’s House, the Cathedral was completed in 1905, and has remained unchanged and intact since.
Built in the ‘Early decorated’ English Gothic architectural style, the Cathedral took my breath away. Literally.
Every inch of its walls and high stone ribbed ceiling is covered with vibrant, delicate frescoes of the Holy Family, saints and cherubs, interspersed with near perfect geometrical patterns, painted by the Jesuit Italian lay brother A. Moscheni and his two assistants over a period of just a year. A carved marble Altar with a life size statue of Jesus in the central niche and a charming fairy tale pulpit are the artistic expression of another Jesuit German brother, Haegele.
Add to it the exquisite jewel-like stained glass windows depicting the Annunciation, Nativity and Holy Name of Jesus, a massive pipe organ, and effigies of saints perched atop pillars holding up the soaring ceiling, and one is overcome with awe. Outside, flying buttresses and two towers draped in Mangalore tiles complete the magic of this heritage building.
Is it art that lifts god, or god that exalts art. Christianity has always been a great source of inspiration to art, and nowhere was it more apparent to me in Bombay than here.
I like to say a prayer when I visit a place of worship. For the first time I forgot to pray. All I could whisper at the Altar was ‘thank you’ that my wanderings, on a grey overcast afternoon, had led me to this. 🙂
Century-old frescoes on the vaulted ribbed ceiling; Above: Detail
Effigies of Jesus and saints bless the Cathedral’s sanctity
Left: The marble Altar with Jesus Christ in the central niche; Right: In prayer
Jewel-like stained glass windows. Left: Holy Name of Jesus; Right: The Lamb of God replete with halo and Christian banner
A place of beauty, grandeur, divinity
…The Cathedral on Wodehouse Road, now Nathalal Parekh Marg