Basilica completes 175 years

Basilica completes 175 years

Basilica completes 175 years

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, known as Mary’s Basilica in Secunderabad is 175 years old now. The only Basilica in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and one of 10 Basilicas in the country is the only place of worship that celebrates freedom for two different reasons.  

While the churches across the world exult in the Assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven on August 15, the day is also celebrated as Mother India’s Independence from the British here at St Mary’s. “It is not just coincidence but the hand of providence,” says Ronald James Deshmukh in his book “Endearing Journey” which was released as part of the year-long celebrations.

According to prominent scholar Dr BF Showrayya, St Mary’s Basilica has a unique political history. He says that victory of founder of the Church, Daniel Murphy, an Irish man and the first Vicar Apolistic of Hyderabad, over the British Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, is definitely the first win in the country’s war of Independence. Advocating special recognition for the historic Church, he says that both the Telugu state governments should honour the free spirit of the Church and Bishop Murphy’s vision.

Historians say that while the construction work of the Church was in progress, a feud broke out for its possession between the Catholics and Goa-based Portuguese. The feud was so intense that some soldiers of the Queen’s Regiment and the artillery too stepped in for the possession of the Church. While a few Irish priests were accused of inciting the soldiers to violence, Bishop Murphy was held responsible for provoking the Irish clergy and the soldiers by his words and actions.

After a formal inquiry by the British, Bishop Murphy and his priests from Secunderabad Cantonment were given marching orders. Gen YS Fraser who was Brigadier in Command in Nizam’s dominions at that time was given the responsibility of implementing the orders. However, General Fraser hesitated and advised Lord Dalhousie not to remove the Bishop based on the so-called Madras resolution.

According to Showrayya, Lord Dalhousie, however, felt that the Bishop should have exercised a firm control over his sub-ordinates. Thus, Bishop Murphy, though not expelled from his diocese, was barred from entering Secunderabad for two years.

Bishop Murphy left for London where the Court of Directors considered his case and eventually instructed the British authorities in India to lift the ban on him and his priests. Immediately the victorious Bishop Murphy returned to Secunderabad from London and resumed the full exercise of his Episcopal functions.

For 175 years St Mary’s Church has played a crucial role in bringing people together by celebrating Christmas, Easter, Feast of the Pentecost and many Marian festivals. The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to the church years ago in memory of a miracle. According to Fr Swarna Bernard, Vicar General of Hyderabad, a Parsi lady who was paralysed for years when taken to the statue in a wheelchair was able to stand up and walk.

In 1840, Daniel Murphy, started planning to build the Church. The foundation stone was laid by him on August 15, 1847, exactly 100 years before India attained its Independence from colonial rule. Construction of the Gothic-style Church was completed in 1850. According to Ronald James, the Basilica was originally named as the Cathedral of St Mary in 1850, but later in 1960s it became the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. It was permanently rechristened by Pope Benedict XVI as St Mary’s Basilica in 2008.

Basilica is a title given to some Roman Catholic churches. By canon law, no Catholic church can be honoured with the title of Basilica unless by apostolic grant or from immemorial custom. The title is bestowed upon large churches that are important as places of pilgrimage or for a specific devotion such as to a saint.

Qualifying for the rare status the church also has around 15,000 registered Catholic families and a large number of footfall throughout the year from all over the country. The Basilica also conducts various religious programmes and services for the devotees every week.

According to Sajjad Shahid, secretary for the Centre for Deccan Studies, the Church was initially constructed for the benefit of Irish Catholics in the British Army that was stationed at Secunderabad Cantonment. The Basilica was constructed on a hillock dominating the skyline of Secunderabad in those days. “Reminiscent of Indian Gothic style, the Basilica has curved arches and pointed buttresses. It has several side altars dedicated to saints. It has four bells,”  Sajjad said.

He added that the St Mary’s is an excellent example of early use of Gothic architecture. “It is different from the pattern in vogue those days. It is a result of blending existing structures in Europe to a more lively style,” Sajjad explains. St Francis Xavier Church at Yapral was also constructed by Daniel Murphy in 1842, which at that time was also looking after churches in Trimulgherry, Bolarum and Hyderabad. The Yapral church, located in the Cantonment area, catered mostly to the needs of the Army personnel.

The quartoseptcentennial celebrations at the Basilica were organised with pomp and piety recently. The carnival-like celebrations have a special attraction in the shape of Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal, Salvatore Pennachio, Arch Bishop of Hyderabad Tumma Bala and Bishops of Telugu states.

The clergy arrived in vintage cars with a marching band of colourfully dressed girls playing drums in front of the procession. The Basilica was then dedicated by the representative of the Vatican. The newly constructed adoration chapel and museum of the Church were inaugurated on the occasion. The museum features the church’s history and pictures.

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