Braz Fernandes, the noted historian, in his ‘History of Bandra’ dates the building of the Church of St. Andrew, somewhere from 1575, calling it “the oldest building now standing in Bandra”. He also bemoans the lack of respect for the antiquity of the building that houses so many relics of the old Portugese era. While many of us marvel at the old Portuguese churches in Goa, and even as far away as Macao – which is only the empty façade of a church, few really know of this historical gem in our midst – the Curch of St. Andrew.
As early as 1534, when Christianity was in its infancy in Bandra, the island of Salsette of which Bandra was a part, came under Portuguese rule. Brother Manual Gomes a Portuguese missionary, known as the apostle of Salsette, was responsible for the spread of Christianity in Bandra. Ordained in 1583, he and his band of enterprising missionaries, speaking the language of the people and learning their customs were, by 1603, able to multiply the whole of Bandra into a Catholic community.
In 1618, a hurricane destroyed many of the buildings and the Church of St. Andrew lost its roof but, Braz Fernandes records that till the “first quarter of the 17th Century, St. Andrew’s was the only church in Bandra”, the college and the chapel of St. Anne’s being built in 1620. This is contested by other reports which refer to St. Andrew’ s church being built later than that of St. Anne’s recorded as being built in 1583, in the grounds of the fortress which later housed the Bandra slaughter house, and is now occupied by the B.E.S.T. Depot near the Bandra station.
In March 1739, the Church of St. Anne was blown up by the English leaving the Church of St. Andrew as the only Church in Bandra. All the other churches in Bandra are of later origin.
The Church of St. Andrew first stood at 100 ft. long, 42 ft. wide with walls of 5 ½ ft. thick rising 58 ft. into the sky. The large porch that was once at the entrance was demolished in 1965 to make room for the growing numbers thus extending the Church by 75 ft. which now gives it a length of 175 ft. This was done during the tenure of the late Msgr. George Fernandes, Vicar of St. Andrew’s. In keeping with the wish of the parishioners the original Portuguese façade was retained.
20th February, 1966 church Extension Opening Ceremony: “This was a memorable day and, perhaps many did not realize its historical importance in the annals of our parish; it‘s a milestone on the long road which marks the end of a period of over 350 years as no major alteration to this ancient church was undertaken until then. One must see it to appreciate how changed the church looks in its interior, the view of the altars is unobstructed by pillars, and we can say with the poet “distance lends enchantment” when one views from the altar, the congregation that would fill the church as it was filled on the evening when His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias came for the Opening Ceremony and celebrated Pontifical High Mass. The Mass was sung by the entire congregation led by the choir conducted by Mr. Raul Viegas (Andrean Notes, 1966).
A tour round this very historical church will give us an insight into the heritage that is our parish:
The original main altar had the twelve apostles. St. Andrew was given the first place. This altar was destroyed by white ants and was replaced by the present altar in 1906 “built on a brick base paved with marble and which extends almost to the roof”. “The present altar has three niches – the Sacred Heart and Our Lady in the two outer niches, with the statue of St. Andrew in the central niche. Above these are three smaller niches with statues of St. John the Baptist and St. Sebastian and the third one a little higher containing the statue of the Bom Jesu.
Both the side altars are the original altars built of wood in the sixteenth century, carved and painted in the popular Portuguese style of that period called the Flamboyant. The north side altar has the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Baby was taken up to the Mount and kept there from 1700 to 1760. The entire historical data of this has been very well documented by Carlisle Curry in his booklet entitled: ‘The Story of the Two Statues”.
The south side altar depicts the scene of Mount Calvary. It has the statues of Our Lady of the Cross upon which Christ hangs with St. John standing at the foot. Beneath this altar lies one of our most reassured historical statues – the Body of the dead Christ after it was taken down from the Cross. It is used even today every year in the Lenten Service of the Passos on Good Friday – the Taking Down from the Cross, when this statue is kept for veneration till the Easter Vigil commences.
Two original wood panels above the two front doors depicting the Resurrection of Christ and the Assumption of Mary Immaculate are also of sixteenth century origin. The Resurrection scene shows Christ trampling over death represented by a skeleton that is wasted and rotted, thus showing the triumph of Christ’s redemption of mankind over death and sin. The Assumption of our Lady into heaven is depicted by a crown held over her head by the hands of God, the Father and God the Son, while the Holy Spirit hovers above. It is interesting to note that the representation of the Assumption of Our Lady was already part of religious art even before the dogma of the Assumption became the Magisterium of the Church.
The beautifully carved pulpit is of great historical significance as well, since it is also the original one of the sixteenth century. Carved to resemble a flower on a stalk it has seven sepals that turn outward and are held together by angels. On each petal is a carving representing the prophets of the Old Testament. Above hangs a canopy with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove carved on it. Old parishioners remember the stone steps leading to the pulpit from the outside which were demolished and walled in when the Church was being extended and steps built from the inside of the Church, necessitating the removal of two of the beautifully carved panels.
CHRIST THE KING
The imposing statue of Christ the King which stands at the entrance and greets all who enter, was installed on 3rdFebruary 1935 when Bandra was consecrated to Christ the King with pomp and spiritual splendour.
THE BELLS OF ST. ANDREW
On either side of the façade the two towers which originally flanked it were demolished and new ones, having stained glass windows were built with the new façade when the church was extended. The base of the north tower now accommodates the stairway to the choir. The base of the other tower houses the Baptistery whose stained glass window has been recently restored. The bell that was first kept in the window facing east is the oldest. It bears the inscription “SANTO ANDRE DE BANDORA 1793” round the outside of the rim and on the body is a cross in an oval. It was used to announce deaths, arrival of funerals at the church and on All Souls Day. The bell that was kept in the window facing north, has the inscription partly in Portuguese and partly in English : “SANTO ANDRE DE BANDORA 1900”. This was used for the Angelus and to summon the faithful to services and on festive occasions. The largest bell in the center of the Belfry is of more recent origin being presented in 1934 by Sir Dominic Joseph Fereira, K.C.S.S. in memory of his wife Josephine. It was cast by Gogossen Von Humpert, Brilon, and was used daily at 8.30 p.m. “to remind the faithful to pray for the departed souls, for the Angelus and on festive occasions”. All three bells are now in the new north tower.
CROSSES IN ST. ANDREW
St. Andrew’s Church has one of the most historical crosses in Bandra, yet few of us may even give it a cursory glance on our way into the Church. It stands in the south side of the Church compound towards the Hill Road wall. This cross originally belonged to the old college of St. Anne’s (present Bandra Station Depot) and was brought to St. Andrew’s compound in 1870. It stands 17 ft. over the pedestal which in itself is 12 ft high and it has the unique feature of being carved from single stone. On the surface are 39 carved emblems symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Unfortunately, in our enthusiasm when painting the Church, these emblems have been painted over, but for those who have the time and inclination, a study of each of these emblems might prove to be a rewarding exercise. The cross originally had steps but a dome lie base was built in 1917. This cross is the oldest cross in Bandra.
There is a cross of unknown bearing the inscription “1720” standing in the cemetery at the southern extreme end of the Church compound.
The compound walls: These were built by a Parsi gentleman Mr. Manockjee Sorabjee Ashburner in 1862 and which historical fact was recorded on a small marble slab at the main gate of the enclosure. This evidence has now been lost while the wall was being rebuilt.
The Grotto near the main entrance of the compound was built in 1921, by Mr. Augustus Pereira of St. Andrew’s Road. In memory of his deceased wife, Mr. Dominic Miranda of Chimbai erected in 1929, the St. Theresa’s Oratory in the walled in cemetery after the older dilapidated one had been demolished. The archway for the main entrance to the compound was built in 1955 by Mr. Francis Joseph Baptista of New Kantwady.
The altar which looks new is in fact an old one dating back to 1910. It was set up as a side altar opposite the old Portuguese style Pulpit. On this altar was placed the statue of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1966, when the Church was extended, the altar was dismantled and discarded on the groundfloor ofBosco Hall. The statue of St. Francis was donated to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi at the Cemetery Road. We have restored the altar and extended the platform. We are grateful to Damien Brothers for bearing a major portion of the cost of restoring the altar, extending the platform and having it carpeted. We also thank Conrad Gonsalves for guiding us through this project.
RESTORATION OF THE PAROCHIAL HOUSE
The Parochial House was in urgent need of renovation. Hence, the then Parish Priest, Msgr. Nereus Rodrigues, took it upon himself to provide comfortable lodging for the clergy of St. Andrews. Thanks to Andrean Fair 6 and his tireless efforts, St. Andrew’s Parish can now boast of a new Parochial House, “Andrenelle”, which was inaugurated on 30th November, 1994, on the feast of ST. Andrew. It was blessed and commissioned by Simon Cardinal Pimenta. “Andrenelle” now has ample room for association meetings, a fairly large Church Office and comfortable living quarters for the priests. The highlight of this Presbytery is the ‘Chapel’ on the ground floor which remains open day and night inviting people to Come and Adore!
ANDREW’S CHURCH GRAVEYARD
The Graveyard of St. Andrew’s which covers a very large area, was initially meant for the parishioners of St. Andrew’s. However, in 1946, when parts of the Parish were sliced to form the parishes of St. Theresa’s. St. Vincent de Paul’s and St. Anne’s, some of the parishioners so transferred, have still a claim for burial I the graves of their ancestors in St. Andrew’s graveyard. Due to non-availability of space, it is not possible to allot fresh permanent graves even to the existing parishioners of St. Andrew’s whose numbers have increased tremendously. To meet the shortage, persons who do not have permanent graves are buried in temporary graves.
Vaulting of Graves: Section ‘B’ (area along Chimbai Road) needs to be re-planned as there are a number of overhanging trees which not only cause a cleaning problem but graves cannot be dug in the allotted space because of the spreading roots, resulting in problems of encroachment. Besides the passage in the corner is very narrow and gets waterlogged during the monsoons. It was therefore decided to vault the graves so that the area would be leveled up and easy to clean. Each grave holder is expected to defray part of the expenses by paying Rs.2,000/-.
In 1964 the graveyard was rearranged and the entire area divided into sections marked ‘A’, to ‘H’. Some of these sections were vaulted. Each permanent grave owner was issued a Registration Card giving the name of the grave-owner, the co-users and the grave number and section and a plan showing the location of the grave. It may be noted that while allotting a permanent grave, the property rights of the Church are not transferred but only the right of use of the particular grave is given to the family concerned, subject to the rules and regulations governing the graveyard. As regards temporary graves, permission is given for one particular burial and the family members have no right over the grave.
SUNLIGHT IN THE CHURCH
In the centre of the façade is a small hole just above the statue of St. Andrew. Its purpose: to let the rising sun shine through the church to give a solar phenomenon which has been researched and documented by Carlisle Curry and was presented in the supplement to the Andrean Notes of 1 July, 1989.
This phenomenon still occurs twice a year on the days of the Equinox on 21st and 22nd March (the Vernal Equinox) and on 22nd and 23rd September (Autumnal Equinox). Inside the church the sun shines on the keystone of the arch which separates the sanctuary from the main altar exactly at 7 a.m. This phenomenon still occurs, so look out for it. Mr. Curry observed that the Portuguese with their knowledge of astronomy for over 500 years used it to create this unique phenomenon in the Church of St. Andrew.
For more details about the Church and other institutions, please download the Andrean Vista issue of 1976