Behind the vows: Stories in black-and-white

DH's Ashwani Kumar N K R browses the archives of a Mangaluru native who has recorded tales and stills from Catholic weddings of old.
Last Updated : 13 June 2024, 10:18 IST

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Michael Lobo points to a black-and-white photograph of a young couple in London, dating back to May 18, 1904. This vintage image is one in a collection of photos from the wedding of a Mangalorean Catholic couple, F X DeSouza and Alice Coelho.

"DeSouza was the first Indian Christian to qualify for the Indian Civil Service during the British era. He retired as Judicial Commissioner of Sindh,” says Michael. A resident of Mangaluru himself, Michael has curated rare vintage photographs of Mangalorean Catholic weddings of a bygone era.

Be it the rich brocade banarasi sarees worn by the brides or the 'khaddar westhi' (dhoti) worn by the grooms, the wedding photographs showcase the fashion of the times.

“I felt a need to curate the pictorial and handwritten records of our ancestors to whom we owe our very existence, before the available records are lost,” says Michael.

His collection is complementary to his book, 'A Genealogical Encyclopaedia of Mangalorean Catholic Families', yet to be published. It covers over a thousand families from the Mangalorean Catholic community and runs into 10,000 pages.

Michael says that the written records of the Catholic community in Mangaluru are traceable as far back as 200 years. His process involves noting all 19th-century baptism, marriage and death records at the churches and cataloguing them according to surname.

He has also conducted personal interviews with a large number of Mangalureans, many of whom have settled in various parts of India and abroad.

How it all started

While rummaging through baptismal registers covering the period between 1810 and 1860 at Milagres Church, Mangaluru, Michael discovered a record belonging to his great grandfather Antony Peter Lobo. He was captivated by the feel of the yellowed paper with beautiful calligraphic handwriting in old Portuguese script.

This was during the 90s, and since then, there has been no looking back. Micheal cut short his mathematical career at Cranfield University, England in 1994, and turned into a full-time genealogist of the Mangalorean Catholic community.

Upon being asked why one would quit a high-profile job overseas and work on a project like this, he says, "It started as a hobby and eventually turned into a full-time affair. The process gave me a great deal of fulfilment, as a small piece of information in a church’s records could connect me with a family living thousands of kilometres away.”

Stories behind still images

During the pre-independence era, several Catholic families had migrated from Mangalore to various parts of the country, including Lahore in present-day Pakistan. They stayed even after the partition, and were laid to rest there. But their wedding photographs can still be found in archives in their hometown. 

For instance, Peter Paul Pais, who was an agent for the Northern India branch of Imperial Bank, married Winifred D'Souza at St Francis Xavier's Church in Bejai, Mangalore in 1928. However, Winifred died when they were in Lahore as Peter was posted there.

Michael’s collection includes diverse couples. Some interesting details are embedded in these photographs. 

One such photograph features P G D'Souza and his spouse Rose Noronha, who were married at St Joseph's Church, Briand Square, Bangalore, in 1910. D'Souza served in the then Mysore government. He was awarded the title of 'Rajakarya Praveena' for his exemplary services to governance. The couple had 17 children.

Another picture tells a tale of a Mangalorean connection to the British Royal family. Lt Col Francis Arthur D'Abreu tied the knot with Margaret Ann Bowes Lyon in Westminster Cathedral, London in 1945. Margaret was a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth, consort of King George VI. Francis’ father Dr John Francis D'Abreu had emigrated to England from Mangalore in the 1880s.

There is another precious photograph of Trevor D'Cunha, an army officer, who was the first Mangalorean to attain the rank of Lt General. He has been awarded the Param Vishisht Seva medal by then President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. He married Iona Pinto at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Jabalpur in 1970. Iona is a MA gold medalist in English Literature. The couple is now settled in Secunderabad.

Each wedding photograph has an unheard story behind it, says Nayana Fernandes, an entrepreneur and art patron from Mangaluru. They provide an opportunity to the current generation to look back at their ancestors and see how they have led their lives, she adds. 

R B C D Andrade and Ellen Menezes in their wedding attire in Mangalore in 1922. Andrade was a tile manufacturer and a municipal councilor.
R B C D Andrade and Ellen Menezes in their wedding attire in Mangalore in 1922. Andrade was a tile manufacturer and a municipal councilor.
Michael Lobo who chronicles these images.
Michael Lobo who chronicles these images.
A photo of Titus Coelho and Josephine Coelho dated Jan 13 1914. Titus was a government servant and later went on to be a coffee planter.
A photo of Titus Coelho and Josephine Coelho dated Jan 13 1914. Titus was a government servant and later went on to be a coffee planter.
Published 13 June 2024, 10:18 IST

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