St Andrew’s 400-year festivities unearth history and legends

St Andrew’s 400-year festivities unearth history and legends
There’s a banner showing the Taj Mahal in the compound of Bandra’s St Andrew Church. Flanked by pinched portraits of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, this Mughal era tomb is meant to highlight the church’s rich heritage. Because, as the poster explains, when the Taj was built in 1654, “St Andrew’s parish was already 38 years old“. The church dates back even further. Vatican records show that the hermitage of St Andrew existed in 1601 and there are also references to a church being built in 1599, which local historians surmise might have been St Andrew.

The Taj Mahal poster is the handiwork of the church’s PR cell, which is gearing up for the parish’s upcoming 400-year anniversary celebrations. They will kick off after the Feast of St Andrew’s at the end of November. About 60 of the 7,660 parishioners are working on the celebrations, which will culminate in December 2016, said Ft Caesar D’Mello.There will be cultural activities, inter-religious dialogues, the unveiling of a commemorative stamp and a historical volume documenting the growth of the parish -once dominated by Kolis.

They were originally part of the Church of St Anne, but according to a 1669 Jesuit letter, the parish grew too large and unwieldy . Also, some parishioners objected to the “bad“ fish smell so the Kolis were given their own parish.Then in 1739, Salsette was taken over by the Marathas and St Anne and its surrounding fortifications were blown up so they wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. From 1739 until St Peter’s was built in 1853, St Andrew’s was Bandra’s only church.

Herman Rodrigues, who has been heading the historical cell, says they have been trawling libraries for information. For now, the best source has been 16th and 17th century Jesuit reports from the Vatican Library in ancient Portuguese. “A priest would spend six months visiting all the churches in Sal sette and then he would write a report,“ he explains. “Each letter is like a work of art because of the calligraphy .“

In 1966, the church’s wooden portico was demolished and the building’s façade was extended. Every effort was taken to ensure that it resembled the original. Even the height of a round window was adjusted so on both solstices, the sun’s morning rays continue to hit the central point of the altar where the host is kept -just like in the original design. Ft D’Mello was amused when the research yielded another curious tidbit preceding a 1992 renovation. “The baptistery was originally built on stilts,“ he said. “Pigs from the village would scratch their backs against the props shaking the building.“

The 1669 Jesuit letter mentions a curious legend about a Mother Mary statue in one of the side altars.“Once upon a time, the Kolis were fishing in this sea of Bandra,“ reads the translation. “They fished not a fish but a statue of the Mother of Pearl, within which the pearl Jesus was found and with festival joy placed it in this church.“ Rodrigues claims the side altars are originals –so it’s possible the current statue is the same one that was fished out of the sea.