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Land of Medieval ChurchesAneesha Kochhar

Mumbai, the city of dreams and opportunities, the city that never sleeps and the city that gives you a reality check has embraced so much since decades and centuries of its existence. From the British raj to the present day terror attacks, there is nothing that has killed the spirit of this all encompassing city. The city is still bustling with as much vigour as always and it still doesn’t sleep. With lights paving your way even in the wee hours of the morning, you will never find yourself ‘lost’ in the very crowded Mumbai. Such is the exuberance and such is the warmth in the embrace of this unforgettable city.

From a rich cultural amalgamation to the cosmopolitan breeze that imparts Mumbai its inevitable charm, there is nothing that can’t be found here. Not only does the place exude extreme youthful enthusiasm but also old and traditional architecture that leaves everyone awe-struck. From little children to really old inmates, Mumbai invites every person with open arms because no matter what, there is something for everyone! Talking of old architecture, how can one not mention the spectacular churches that lace every corner of this wonderful city? Brimming with inescapable charm and beauty, the intricately crafted marvels are not only a visual treat but also give spiritual warmth and peace to everyone who enters. They impart hope, imbibe peace and tranquillity to those who wish to believe. Faith can move mountains and these churches over the years have moved many a mountain in people’s lives, giving them the strength they need whenever they need.

Churches already have a very peaceful charm about them. They are those heavenly places on earth that you can turn to when you feel low or even when you want some architectural inspiration! Serving so many purposes at once, churches all over the world are on the ‘visit list’ of uncountable tourists.

The candles, the cross, the high rise ceilings, the painted glasses and everything else exudes such an olden charm which is hard o ignore. Since, Mumbai was largely inhabited by the British, the churches here boast of impeccable architecture that demands awe from every onlooker.

Even though many of the churches have been reconstructed or renovated, they still hold the same old essence that they did centuries ago. While there are uncountable churches in Mumbai, some really old and popular ones are mention-worthy and need to be on everyone’s itinerary. Here we describe 10 such spectacular visual treats that are of historic and religious importance. These churches have stood the test of time and still stand tall to listen to people’s prayers.





Let’s go through this list and learn what each one here has to offer.



1. Mount Mary Basilica – Bandra


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Oh! The lively atmosphere of this church is so contagious that it might change the person you are; for the good! People always swarm this church for their daily dose of peace and just looking at this church can make you feel lighter. A flight of stairs takes you up to where the church is and once you are there, the whole aura will soak you in. The pious statue of the Virgin Mary will take your breath away. It is 80 metres above sea level and sits pretty for all to see.

The history of this church is as interesting as the church itself. The church was built way back in the 16th century but the Arab pirates destroyed it in 1700 in order to obtain the gilt-lined object that was in the right hand of the statue. This led to the rebuilding of the church in 1760. The story behind the new statue is enticing and many believe it to be true. It is believed that the statue was found floating in the sea between 1700 and 1760 after a Koli fisherman dreamt about it! Interesting, isn’t it? This one is probably the most visited church by tourists, not only because it exudes impeccable beauty and charm but also because of its close proximity to Hill Road Market, ‘Mannat’ – The King of Bollywood- Shah Rukh Khan’s sprawling bungalow and Bandra Bandstand.

A tourist can easily visit all of these interesting spots within just one hour since they are located at a distance of just half a kilometre from each other.

The best day to visit is every day but of course, if you are a traveller, the best time would be to visit Mount Mary church during the Bandra fair. The vibrant stalls that sell religious items and the food and snack vendors, the candles and the wax figures will give you ample of memories and memorabilia to take back home with you.



2. St. Andrew’s Church – Bandra


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This one stands tall since four long centuries and is a heritage church that is every photographer’s delight. The building was built way back in 1616 and its 400th anniversary just went by last year. It is one of the oldest churches in the Archdiocese. You can yourself imagine how intricate and stunning the architecture of this church must be. Although it has been renovated time and again because of its really old existence, it still encapsulates the old church charm, leaving tourists in awe of the extremely wondrous interiors.

When you enter the church, you will be mesmerized by the breathtaking interiors that quickly transport you to a world of calm and peace. You will see a life-size statue of Saint Andrew in the main altar. This statue holds an X-shaped cross instead of a conventional cross because when St. Andrew was to be crucified, he did not want to be hung upon a conventional cross. He didn’t feel that he was worthy of dying on the same cross as Jesus.

The church is in close proximity to the other churches in Bandra and with just a ten minute drive, you can be on the very popular Bandra-Worli sea link! With so many places to see around this area, this church makes for a perfect place to visit when in Mumbai.

Another intriguing aspect of this church is the fact that the walls are five feet thick! These walls are built of mortar and limestone. These truly unique aspects of St. Andrew’s make it stand out among the rest. It is a very popular tourist spot owing to the beautiful architecture and its heritage. Don’t be surprised if it you find yourself gazing at the inescapable beauty of this church for hours.



3. Afghan Church – Colaba


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Afghan church. The name can sound quite peculiar for a church but there is a very interesting reason as to why it is named so. The Afghan Church is known to be one of the best heritage structures in the city. It is located at a very touristy spot – Colaba and therefore, attracts many tourists owing to its inescapable charm and beauty! In close proximity is the Colaba Causeway market which is a street market very famous for accessories and clothing collection. Also nearby is the Arabian Sea peeping through the marvellous Gateway of India. With so much to do, Colaba is already a much sought after place among tourists and natives alike. There are many eateries in the area too.

The Afghan church was first opened to public in 1858 by John Harding, the Bishop of Mumbai. From then on, this church has been gathering attention and accolades for its magnificent architecture and stunning interiors. Many people come here specifically to capture the beautiful and intricately done interiors.

Now coming to the name bit; this church is popularly known as the church of St. John, the Evangelist and is an Anglican Church which was constructed to give tribute to all the British soldiers who were killed during the first Afghan War and the Kabul Battle. This is the reason behind this interesting name. Another very interesting purpose behind building this church was to encourage Gothic Architecture studies.

A fact that not many are aware of is that the Afghan church is the first religious monument in India to be built in order to honour a military incident. Listed as a Grade I heritage structure, by the government, it is one of the most visited sites in the city, attracting photographers, historians, tourists and religious devotees.

Now, once you are done taking a tour of this marvellous structure, there are many other things to do around the area. If you are a fan of the ‘fish business’ and would like to see how the locals catch fish and the other related nitty-gritty, then the Sassoon Dock is close by where you will witness all of this. Beware! the fish stench can really get to you. For those who are too sensitive to the smell of fish, you can head to the World Trade Centre and check out an interesting exhibition!



4. St. Thomas Cathedral – Fort


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The Cathedral of St. Thomas was built in 1718. It has passed the test of time. Since it was built in the British era of India, the purpose behind building the Cathedral was to maintain and improve the standards of British settlement. This was the very first Anglican Church in the city and hence, till date it is of great religious significance for the Christian community in Mumbai. The Cathedral looks stunning with all the marvellous embellishments and it can be spotted from far away owing to its tallness. This church was named after St. Thomas. He was one of the 12 Disciples of Christ. The building has started deteriorating slowly owing to the fact that it is very old but the charm is still the same as it was before and the interiors typically boast of Mumbai’s rich regal heritage.

The history is quite enticing. In 1710, the East India Company Chaplain decided to make a breathtaking Anglican structure to honour St. Thomas. However, the church was opened as the first Anglican Church to everyone only in 1718 AD on Christmas day inviting hundreds of people to offer prayers and celebrate the big day. We can only imagine what a beautifully lit evening it must have been.

St. Thomas Cathedral was built on Neo-Gothic styles. The interiors of this cathedral are very similar to the St. Thomas Cathedral in Ireland. Both the churches have an impeccably artsy structure and the one in Mumbai is as well-maintained as the one in Ireland. The interiors are beautifully designed using Plaster Of Paris to create the designs, beautiful stained glass, brass and exquisite arched windows.

This magnificent church was awarded the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2004, making it another most visited site attracting hundreds and thousands of tourists from all over the nation and the globe.

Well, once done with being impressed with this incredible church, you can head for some shopping to the Crawford market which is hardly a kilometre away. This crowded marketplace offers a plethora of local and imported products at dirt cheap prices! From spices to perfumes and chocolates to household items, there is nothing you won’t find here. How far away is it? Well, just a 10 minute walk from the St. Thomas Cathedral church!



5. St. Peter’s Church – Bandra


This is another one of the most beautiful churches in Mumbai. St. Peter’s Church, just like many others that we read about is located in Bandra west. The Church is just about a century old but has been identified as a heritage site already. It has been rebuilt several times because it had started to deteriorate and lose its charm. However, now it stands beautifully attracting so many people to visit every single day. Its impeccable architecture definitely deserves special mention.

The beautiful stained glass windows are nothing short of breathtaking and will make you feel calm and peaceful. The marble altar with the carving of the last super adds to its stunning architecture and is one of those things that tourists come to this church for. There are angels on either side and also on the window panes making it look like heaven on earth.

The whole aura will mesmerize you and this is the perfect place to sit in the quiet and reflect upon your life. You will go out a much calmer person. The decorations of this huge church make it look so serene and lively at the same time. Since it is located inside a school, there is a huge playground adjacent to it as well. Its location is superb, especially for tourists as everything is in close proximity. Whether you wish to go street shopping at Hill road or just grab a snack from the very famous A1 bakery, you will need to walk for just about 5 to 10 minutes to get there.



6. Gloria Church – Byculla


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The foundation for the new Gloria Church at Byculla was laid on the 29th January 1911 and the new church building was completed by the end of 1912. The church was under ‘Padroado Jurisdiction’ but despite that it was not rebuilt in a typical ‘Portugese Church’ style.

However, 1911 is not the year when all of this began. The origin of the Gloria church dates back to several hundred years. 1548 is when the first private chapel was built. This chapel was a part of the large manor of Captain Antonio Passao.

As Mazagaon’s population started increasing, the private chapel became too small for everyone. The chapel was pulled down and a plan to build a church was devised. Between 1660 and 1671, the church was enlarged.

Then once again in 1810, the old Church needed renovation since it was in a bad condition and there were high chances of it collapsing. The church was rebuilt. Over a period of time, several improvements were made to the Church in the second half of the 19th Century. The structure that is seen today has gone through so many renovations and witnessed so many events. This fact makes it an even more appealing destination to visit, especially for historians who love to gather information on the evolution of architectural and religious structures.

The Gloria Church was built in a much modern way in the English Gothic style and the present day structure is proof of its breathtaking architecture. The church is big with dimensions of 205 feet long and 65 feet broad. The windows of the church have a very Gothic appeal and the arches of the ceiling are pointed. Anybody who looks at these extraordinarily beautiful interiors is bound to be awe-inspired by this church.

The church is picturesque and will give its visitors ample memories and clicks to take back with them. Byculla has many attractions of which Gloria church is one of the main marvels to be explored. Not only is it beautiful on the outside and on the inside, it is the place where you will be able to align your inner self. Your relationship with god will strengthen and your faith will become more powerful than ever before. Such is the effect of Gloria church on the people who visit it.



7. St. Michael’s Church – Mahim


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St. Michael's Church is one of the oldest Catholic Churches in India. The church as we see it today was built back in 1973 and was originally built further back in the 16th century by Antonio do Porto. The main attraction of this church is its surreal Christmas Mass and the Novena services. For the Novena services, a devotee needed to attend a special mass for nine consecutive Wednesdays and once they had done that religiously, their wishes were believed to come true.

The church has been frequently rebuilt and restored over time to maintain its appeal and architecture. The 'Our Lady of the Mount' chapel was quite popular in the 18th century. However, this building was destroyed by the Portuguese. A famous picture of Virgin Mary was rescued from the destroyed chapel and was given refuge at St. Michael's Church. The image has since remained with the church and is also one of the main attractions of the church today.

A small flea market is situated right opposite the church where vendors sell candles, garlands and fresh flowers. The Novena service held at church on Wednesdays gives tourist an excellent opportunity to attend the special mass. The church is truly amazing in all aspects and is a must visit for every traveller. Not only is it beautiful to look at and explore, the Novena service make it even more interesting.

If you are keen to walk a little or take a cab to nearby destinations, there are some interesting places that await your presence. For those who are fascinated by the ‘Slumdog Millionaire” shoot area, Dharavi is not too far from here. You can visit Dharavi not only for looking at where the movie was shot but you also get some really good leather goods here which make perfect gifts to take back home with you. If you are against leather goods and are a promoter of ‘animal welfare’ then this is not the place for you. Instead you could head to another religious place that will take your breath away. Just about 3 Kilometres away is the very popular Shree Siddhivinayak Temple where you will find tranquil and peace.



8. Wodehouse Church – Colaba


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Wodehouse Church is situated on the Wodehouse Road at Colaba in Mumbai. Many Christians can be seen flocking the church every day. It is also one of the notable tourist spots in that area.

The original Wodehouse church was at Medows Street and only after the insistence of Theodore Dalhoff, the City of Bombay Improvement Trust allotted a spot in Colaba to build the new one. The Cathedral of the Holy Name, a name it is widely known as, was built in 1905. This Neo-Gothic structure is known for its gorgeous appearance and is one of the most popular churches in the city.

After entering its centenary year that was in 2015, the Wodehouse Church has undergone a lot of renovations. The vibrant frescoes on the ceiling and the altar's glass panels are worth watching and are every architecture enthusiast’s delight. The church is nothing short of grand and every corner of this church commands attention. The frescoes showcase scenes from the life of Jesus and from the Old Testament which makes it such a fascinating view. The frescoes are literally telling a story that is hard to miss.

The church is one of the most picturesque ones in the city and since tourists mostly love to visit the Colaba area, the Wodehouse church is always on their list. It is not just a place of spiritual gains but also an exemplary site of art and architecture. Also, there is everyone’s favourite Colaba Causeway market nearby and loads of places to eat in. If you are a sea person then 7 to 10 minutes away is the gorgeous marine drive where you can cool off later on.



9. St. Anne’s Church – Bandra


This beautiful church started out as just a little chapel on a small hill. This was about a hundred and fifty years ago when Pali Hill was thickly wooded. Today, the sight may be a lot different and so is the church but the spirit and the liveliness of the area is the same. The peace and calm of St. Anne’s church is the same. People’s affection and faith for the church is the same.

Back in the day, the roof and all the other woodwork of the building had started to wear down and this led to the renovation of the entire structure after which the beauty was restored. Bandra being the home to so many churches is surely a religious person’s delight. Well, religious or not, the churches are noteworthy and worth visiting if you are looking for some peaceful and serene moments. St. Anne’s is definitely one of the churches in the city that truly deserves a visit.

When you are done clicking pictures and spending time in looking at the beautiful church’s interiors, you can head to linking road for some amazing street shopping, particularly for footwear. This is about 10 minutes away from St. Anne’s Church. Also, some really good food can be found both on the streets and in restaurants here.



10. St. John Baptist Church – Andheri East


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St. John the Baptist Church. This name sends chills down some people’s spines! This is an abandoned and ruined church located in SEEPZ which is an Industrial Area in Andheri East. The church was built by the Portuguese Jesuits a long time ago in 1579 and was opened to public worship on the feast of John the Baptist that year. A graveyard was also attached to the church.

In 1840 an epidemic hit the village and the church were abandoned post which the church started decaying and plants started growing inside it. Despite this abandonment, many Christians make it a point to visit the church once a year.

Now coming back to the ‘chills down the spine’ part. There is a story behind this and many believe it to be true. It is believed that the ghost of a young bride once haunted this place. She was either murdered or committed suicide. In fact, in 1977 an exorcism was also carried out to get rid of this ghost. Post the exorcism, the ghost was never found and people were not affected anymore. So, now people are more relaxed and tend to visit the church from time to time to witness the old remains of the building that was once a properly built church. It is still very beautiful, especially to those who like old buildings.

Coming back to the ghost story; nobody knows whether the story is true or not. It is up to everyone’s imagination on what they wish to believe! However, the place is visited by photography enthusiasts and many tourists. It is like one of those old architectural buildings that demand attention. Definitely a must visit!

When done with the experience of trying to find something spooky in the ruins, you can head to other nearby places. Andheri East is an industrial area so there is not much to see here. Your best bet will be to head to Andheri west for a mall visit at Infiniti Mall or to eat at one of the many good food outlets on Andheri Link road.

There are so many other churches but not all can fit into this one article, can they? Well, that is the reason the best of the best have been picked out here to help you with a real and vivid picture of each one of them. You can now start making your itinerary! Whether or not you visit all will depend on how much time you have in Mumbai. However, since most are situated in Bandra, you can finish almost all in about 2 to 3 days. All of these churches are spectacular and we don’t mean just ‘visually’ or ‘historically’. The entire atmosphere will engulf you into a world that imparts to you nothing but eternal inner peace.

The extremely interesting part about each of these is that they are decades and centuries old but still stand tall attracting tourists not only from India but from all over the world. They are not just ‘places’ to visit. These are heritage sites that deserve your time and attention. They offer you a visual experience like no other, enriching you with stories and happenings from ages and eras ago. They inculcate in you a sense of aesthetics like no other place can. Besides, everyone has an artsy side to them. These will totally bring that out in you.

Visit them for the pictures, visit them for the peace, visit them for the culture and the vintage appeal, visit them for the feast and visit them for the information, visit them for a historic treat. Whatever may be your agenda behind wanting to watch these majestic and unbelievably incredible structures, you simply can’t ‘delete’ these from your visit list!



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