This week I want to share with you a little gem in my neighbourhood in Mumbai.
I live in Bandra on a hillock called Mount Mary. Around me, literally, are an abundance of historical churches, of which three stand out. Across the road is St. Stephen’s Church built in 1845 by wealthy English entrepreneurs who made Bandra their home during the British Raj. A couple of hundred yards away is the legendary Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount (1904), the locus of the Bandra Fair and a place of spiritual refuge and comfort for people of all faiths. Down the hill is Bandra’s oldest church which transposes one to Goa with its whitewashed Portuguese facade—St. Andrew’s Church—dating back to 1575.
And for long [in my case] and for many [including me] these three comprised the Christian heritage of Bandra. But there is more. There is always more!
Till Bollywood decided to make the neighbourhood a home for its stars and star directors, Bandra was a thickly wooded cluster of villages replete with small bungalows topped with tiled roofs, and mud pathways. These villages were: Sherly, Malla, Rajan, Kantwady, Waroda, Ranwar, Boran, Pali, and Chuim.
Nestled in their midst, on another hillock by the name of Pali Hill at the other end of Bandra, was once perched a small chapel called St. Anne’s. It was built by Reverend Father Diogo Gabriel da Silva of Sherly Village in 1858 who used his personal funds to both construct and maintain it “for the spiritual welfare of the people of the neighbouring villages.”
Thirty years on, the chapel started to deteriorate. This time a Mr. Manoel Gonsalves of Malla Village chose to pay for its renovation and enlargement, as well as personally supervise the works. St. Anne’s Chapel opened its doors, prettier and a wee bit bigger, in 1896. The villagers expressed their gratitude with a permanent grave for Mr. Gonsalves inside the edifice.
But there was one more metamorphosis the chapel still had to go through. In 1938, it was razed to the ground and a new building was put up in its place by Father Scipiao Braganza and his parishioners. In 1943 the little chapel on the hill came into its own and became an independent Parish Church.
Right: A plaque by the main door of the church documents the contribution of Rev. Gabriel da Silva of Sherly Village (1858), Mr. Manoel Gonsalves of Malla Village (1896), and the Bandra community (1938) towards building St. Anne’s Church
I had often heard about the church. It was where the local Bandra-ites in and around Pali Hill got married, baptised, and buried. As a community, they gathered in its prayer groups and studied the Bible in their search for answers to life.
Last weekend, I decided to make the journey from my hillock, to the Pali one. As expected there was a wedding ceremony on with men in silk suits, women in saris, and impatient children. Above the lilting hymns and baritone sermon, the church rose, serene and simple into the blue skies.
St. Anne’s Church is neither grand, nor breathtakingly beautiful. It is instead charming, peaceful and quaint, built by the community, for the community over the past 158 years.
The church is dedicated, as its name states, to St. Anne of David’s house and line—Anne is the Greek adaptation of the Hebrew name Hannah. So who was St. Anne? She was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. She is also credited with the Immaculate Conception, before Mary. After years of childlessness, she and her husband Joachim were visited by an angel who told them they would conceive a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God’s service. The Feast of St. Anne is celebrated with much pomp and merriment each year on 26 July in St. Anne’s Church.
At the base of the steps leading to the main door stands a poignant sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Virgin Mary in a mournful state with her heart pierced by a dagger. It was gifted to the church by the Fonsecas from their private chapel, the Chapel of Our Lady of Calvary which was built in 1890 and dismantled in 1968. Local residents of Bandra have spent many a trip uphill to light candles and pray to Our Lady of Sorrows when housed in the Calvary Chapel, and believe the effigy to have magical powers.
Other highlights to look out for are the replica of the Lourdes Grotto which greets the faithful at the gate, wall plaques dedicated to Father Diogo Gabriel da Silva and Manoel Gonsalves, and the brightly painted statue of St. Anne. A renovated choir loft, dazzling stained-glass windows, and the Adoration Chapel, albeit pretty recent, are the contribution of Father John Lobo (2001 – 2008).
Joe, who is responsible for taking care of the church and its properties, fondly pointed out “Changing water into wine” and “Healing the lame man” as his favourite stained glass windows whilst he showed me around. And now, having seen them, they are mine too. 🙂
So dear reader, next time you perchance are in Bandra, do visit St. Anne’s Parish Church to get a feel of Bandra, the way it was and is, for its local populace born and bred in its lanes. Don’t wait for three years like I did to travel to the hillock on the other side. ❤
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Note: Whilst doing my research for this post I came across a couple of fantastic sites. To know more about Bandra and what makes it what it is, do read this. For further information about St. Anne’s Church you could visit their site here.
Photography for this post was allowed with kind permission from the church parish offices.
If you’d like to read my other posts on Bandra wherein I write about its much touted street art and the churches around the hillock I live on, check out my Exploring Bombay page.