The Mumbai suburb of Bandra is well known as a hub of restaurants, watering holes, and of course, the place where most Bollywood stars live. But few realize that Bandra is also home to a beautiful church that was built 38 years before the famous Taj Mahal of Agra! The St Andrew’s Church, that still holds active service and runs a thriving parish, has stood tall for 400 years.
Christianity came to the area in the early 16th century CE with the coming of the Portuguese. In 1534 CE the Portuguese acquired the island of Salsette from Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Including the present day areas extending from Bandra to Dahisar, the name Salsette came from ‘Sahasashti’ meaning group of sixty-six villages, in the local language. Bandra was part of this cluster and was an area known for its fertile paddy fields and rich catch of fish. It was the Portuguese Jesuits who first came and set base in Bandra and it was a Portuguese priest named Father Manuel Gomes, who is said to have converted a large section of the local population to Christianity here.
By 1576 CE, it was recorded that the Christians in Bandra numbered around 500 and their numbers were increasing. This led to the establishment of the Church of St. Anne in Bandra in 1583 CE. Around nine years later, in 1595 CE, a new church was built, closer to the sea. This was specially built for the local Koli or fishing population here and named St. Andrew’s Church. These two churches co-existed for centuries till 1739 CE, when St. Anne’s church was destroyed in the Maratha-Portuguese war which led to the conquest of all Portuguese possessions in the north, including Vasai, by the Marathas. Today, a bus depot and the Bandra railway station stand where St. Anne’s church once stood. Until the mid-19th century CE, St. Andrew’s Church was the only church in Bandra and covered areas as far as Juhu and Santa Cruz.
The St. Andrew’s church was built in the Portuguese style of architecture at the price of Rs 45, 354 at that time. The church originally stood 100 feet long and 42 feet wide with walls 5 ½ feet thick, rising 58 feet into the sky. To cater to the needs of the growing population, the large wooden porch at the entrance was demolished in 1965 and the church was extended by 75 feet.
The main altar of the church is adorned with the 12 apostles of Jesus with St. Andrews at the centre. Adjacent to the main altar are the two side altars, built of wood in the 16th century CE. These are carved and gilded in the popular Portuguese style of the period, the ‘Flamboyant Gothic’. On one side is a statue of Virgin Mary and on the other, a statue depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. At the Church’s entrance is a statue of Jesus Christ wearing a crown. This statue was installed on 3rd February 1935, when Bandra was consecrated to Christ the King.
St. Andrew’s church has one of the most historical crosses in Bandra. The monolithic stone cross which stands near the southern wall is 17 feet high and was brought here from the ruins of the church of St. Anne in 1870 CE.
Today, St. Andrew’s Church no longer stands amid lush paddy fields and coconut groves. It is in the heart of a busy metropolis that is bursting at its seams. Nonetheless, despite the chaos on the roads outside, the St. Andrew’s Church still stands as a beacon of faith for all those who visit it, more than 400 years after it was built.
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