India’s associations with Christianity goes back all the way to 52 A.D, when it was introduced to the people of India by St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. It was he who laid the foundations of Christianity by establishing one or two churches in Kerala. However, inspired by him and the teachings of the Bible, several others churches sprung up in other parts of the country with time.
Colonization by the Dutch, Portuguese, French and British people gave a major boost to the propagation of Christianity in India, bringing with them newer forms of architecture. Today, there are hundreds of churches all over the country which are visited not just by Christians but by people of all faiths due to their incredible architecture and the history and heritage associated with them. During Christmas, as well as on other occasions, visiting these churches is a wonderful experience. This blog brings you the 14 most famous churches in India which you should visit at least once.
1. Se Cathedral Church, Goa
Se Cathedral Church in Goa is an imposing sight to come across in Old Goa, and its grandness is also reflected in its interiors. This church, dedicated to St. Catherine, was built to commemorate the victory of Afonso Albuquerque. Its brilliant Iberian façade, high ceilings, exquisite Mosaic work and intricate wood and gilded carvings are essentially magnificence writ large.
The construction of this church took around a hundred years. Besides the main altar, which is dedicated to St. Alexandria, there are three more altars inside the church. The main altar depicts scenes from the life of St. Alexandria as well as her martyrdom. Some of the attractions inside the church are the bell tower, the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles, the 18th century organ and the statues and paintings along the walls and pillars.
2. Christ Church, Shimla
Christ Church in Shimla is one of the most beautiful churches in India. Situated in the middle of Shimla and built in 1857, it’s believed to be the second oldest church in India. This church is built in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture and is a prominent landmark of Shimla.
The church contains five finely stained glass windows and each window stands for various Christian virtues of faith, charity, hope, fortitude, humility and patience. One of the major attractions here is the pipe-organ which is the biggest in the Indian subcontinent and was installed in the church in 1899.
3. Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa
The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is a treasure-house of art, architecture and history. Its exterior, which is un-plastered, may not appear so impressive, but don’t let that fool you. Its interiors tell a completely different story.
Basilica of Bom Jesus has been built in the classic form of architecture common with Jesuits. The façade is a blend of five architectural styles: Roman, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian and Composite. Albeit the interior designs are sober, the floor is decorated with finest marble and inlaid with precious stones. The Basilica also houses a modern art gallery, the largest of its kind in Asia with paintings depicting various scenes of the Bible. A striking sight is the Tomb of St. Francis Xavier which is essentially a silver casket consisting of silver panels depicting 32 scenes from the life of the saint. The relics of St. Francis Xavier has been associated with several tales, one of which states that the body shrinks every year, and when it shrinks to nothing, will signify the end of the world.
4. Paul Cathedral, Kolkata
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata must find a mention in your list of must visit churches in India. This church is located on a place which is called the “island of attractions” and has been created in Gothic Revival Style.
An incredible sight awaits the onlookers when rays of sunlight bathe the gorgeous arched windows with stained glass. A special attraction of the church are its frescoes. The best time to visit the church is during the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
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5. Francis Church, Kerala
St. Francis Church in Kerala should be visited for its fascinating history along with its incredible architecture. This place once contained the original remains of the renowned explorer, Vasco da Gama. Even though his remains were taken back 14 years later, the exact spot of his burial has been clearly marked.
Its architecture reflects a wonderful blend of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. A charming sight here is the gabled timer framed roof, while the interiors consist of two stepped pinnacles sitting atop the chancel roof. All the other attractions, from the pulpit made of wood to the confessional to the Baptist platform, exudes an old-world charm. The imprints of history can be felt all over the place.
6. San Thome Basilica, Tamil Nadu
San Thome Basilica in Tamil Nadu is a Roman Catholic Basilica built in Santhome, Chennai. It was constructed in the 16th century over the tomb of St. Thomas, an apostle of Jesus. The church has been built in the Neo-Gothic style and was renovated by the British in 1893. The Neo-Gothic style of architecture was a highly famous architectural style of British architects in the 19th century.
The white façade of the cathedral, which stands at 210ft, is indeed an amazing sight to come across. It still houses the remains of St. Thomas. The interiors of the church are beautifully decorated with incredible paintings and lovely frescoes. A museum inside the church is also a special attraction.
7. Vallarpadam Church, Kerala
Vallarpadam Church is located on the beautiful island of Vallarpadam in the district of Ernakulum, next to Bolghatty Islands. This church, which is considered to be one of the oldest European churches in India, was built by the Portuguese missionaries who visited India. The presiding deity of the church is Mother Mary who is popularly known as Vallarpadathamma by the local people.
The church was once devastated by a severe storm, and the structure as it stands today was built on the land provided by the then Prime Minister of the Maharaja of Cochin. The fishermen here bring their boats to the church to receive blessings of the Holy Mother. The annual feast which is conducted in the church on 24th of September every year attracts a lot of pilgrims.
8. Santa Cruz Basilica, Kerala
Santa Cruz Basilica, one of the eight basilicas in India, is one of the most famous churches in India. The church was built after the erstwhile king of Cochin granted permission to the first Portuguese Viceroy, Dom Franciso de Almeida, to build the church in 1505.
The basilica is grand in the use of colors and is a magnificent blend of Indo-European and Gothic architecture. Its two bright lofty spires stand out against the sky and attract one’s attention instantly. The pastel-colored interiors decorated with paintings of Italian painter Brother Antonio Moscheni and his disciple De Gama of Bangalore make you stare at them in amazement. The exquisite craftsmanship of the builders of this monument is also visible in the bright blue pillars at the entrance to the church. Another captivating sight is the imitation painting of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” by Moscheni.
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9. Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Pondicherry
Immaculate Conception Cathedral, also known as “Samba Kovil”, is located on Mission Street in Puducherry. This church has a striking similarity in its resemblance with a church in France that was built in 1791.
The paired Doric columns and ionic above make for an imposing façade while the interiors consist of eight barrel vaults and a central dome with its eight circular openings. It’s an impressive example of French architecture in India. A statue of Our Lady with the infant Jesus in her arms greets the visitors at the entrance.
10. Our Lady of Dolours, Trichur Basilia
Our Lady of Dolours, situated in the city of Thrissur in Kerala, holds the distinction of being one of the biggest and tallest churches in Asia. The church is renowned for its Gothic architecture that spreads over an area of 25,000sq.ft.
Its interiors are adorned with murals along with images of saints and scenes from the religious scriptures. The ceiling is adorned with lovely mural paintings of the holy trinity. The pulpit and the throne used by Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1986 draw everyone’s attention. The two front towers of the church stand at a height of 146ft and 260ft respectively.
11. Thomas Church, Kodungalloor
St. Thomas Church, established in 52 AD by the Apostolate of St. Thomas, is a part of the seven churches that were originally established in India. Naturally, it is also one of the oldest churches in India. The church underwent a beautification by the Reverend Fenichi. A unique fact about this church is that it has a continuous history of two millennia and stands on the same spot where it was first established.
12. All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad
All Saints Cathedral, located in Allahabad, is one of the churches inspired by the Gothic style of architecture that was popular in the 13th century. Constructed during the British rule in India, it was designed by the renowned architect from Britain, Sir William Emerson, the same person who designed Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial.
The church, with its enormous dimensions, can fit upto 300 to 400 people at any given time. Built in the colonial style of architecture, its plaques depict different British rulers who died during their rule in India. A particularly fascinating structure in the church is the pulpit. There is a channel and tower in the middle of the church. The lantern tower has been named as Queen Victoria and was built in her memory.
13. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hyderabad
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hyderabad is one of the best churches in India. Built in the traditional style of architecture, the central hall of this cathedral carries the capacity of accommodating around 500 people. There are five enormous bells located at the top of the tower which were attached to the cathedral in 1892. Upon climbing the stairs of the bell-tower, one can get magnificent views of the city.
14. Philomena’s, Mysore
Holding the distinction of being one of the largest churches in India, St. Philomena’s Church in Mysore draws attention due to its architectural perfection. Dedicated to St. Philomena, it’s also counted as the second largest church in Asia.
The church is constructed in the Neo-Gothic or Victorian style and draws inspiration from the Cologne Cathedral of Germany. The church has been built in the shape of a cross and boasts an accommodation capacity of around 800 people. The sanctum, with its stained glass windows, enhances the beauty of the entire church and displays lovely paintings from various stages of Christ’s life including his birth, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, among others. The pillars of the church too have been decorated with exquisite flower patterns.
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