Pilgrimage has been a significant part of every religion for ages. It conveys the desire and commitment of an individual to be converted into the vibes of a sanctified place. Like all religions, Christianity is also deeply connected with the roots of India. Approximately 25 million Christians are living in India. Some destinations that are worth mentioning while planning a Christian pilgrimage tour one must visit the holy churches that are mentioned below.
Built-in 1594 and consecrated in 1605, the Basilica of Bom Jesus Church is one of a kind in India and is known for its exemplary baroque architecture. The church is located in Goa and the building of this church coincides with the beginning of Christianity in India. The church is located in Old Goa in Bainguinim about 10 km away from Panjim. Being the oldest church in Goa, it holds the remains of St. Francis Xavier, a special friend of St. Ignatius Loyola with whom he founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Even after 400 years, the remains are in good condition and are taken out once every decade.
Literally translating to 'Holy Jesus', this is the only church in Old Goa that is not been plastered on the outside. The facade of the church has triangular roofing which is delicately carved with the initials 'IHS', which is an abbreviation for the Jesuit emblem meaning 'Jesus, Saviour of Men'. Due to its rich cultural and religious significance, the Basilica of Bom Jesus has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Inside, the floor of the Basilica is made of marble mosaic with precious stones, giving it a solemn appearance. The interior is embellished with a screen that runs from the floor to the ceiling and has the image of St. Ignatius Loyola protecting an infant Jesus. Above all is the image of the Holy Trinity, which is the most sacred symbol in Christianity. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is over 408 years old and is open to the public every day.
The Velankanni Church is considered one of the holiest Christian pilgrimage destinations in India and is located on the sandy shores of the Bay of Bengal on the Coromandel Coast, 350 km south of Chennai and 12 km south of Nagapattinam. It is believed that Virgin Mary appeared here along with Baby Jesus around the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, after which Velankanni became a revered site for the Christian community. The church witnesses a humungous crowd of devotees from all over the world. Officially spelled as Vailankanni, this small hamlet is renowned for its Roman Catholic shrine, Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health which is also known as the Velankanni Church. Also fondly known as 'Lourdes of the East', the shrine represents a melting pot of many cultures and international and religious harmony. The church is completely dedicated to Virgin Mary and the Heavenly Mother. It is believed by the devotees of the church that the Lady of Health or Madonna of Velankanni possesses miraculous powers. People of every religion, caste, and creed visit the church to pay their respect to the great lady.
Vailankanni, once a part of the parish of Nagapattinam, rose to the status of an independent parish in 1771 as the pilgrims' inflow increased. It was then that the last parish priest of the Church of the Immaculate Conception was reappointed as the first Parish priest of Vailankanni. Till the year 1847, the church of Nagapattinam and Vailankanni was looked after by the priests of St. Franciscan Missionaries who also looked after the province of Goa and Mylapore. In 1890, the parish was handed over to diocesan priests and made the Diocese of Mylapore charge of Vailankanni. 'Our Lady of Health Vailankanni' became the second patroness of the newly erected Diocese.
Constructed in the memory of Saint Thomas who was an Apostle of Jesus Christ, the church has now grown to be a Basilica. As stated by the then-Pope in 1956. significance of San Thome Church is unparalleled in the history of Christianity in India. Interestingly, Santhome Church is among the only three in the world that house the tombs of one of Christ's original disciples. The other two are St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain. Moreover, the Santhome Church is the greatest symbol of multi-culture and religious harmony as people from all religions visit this Church to seek solace and eternal peace.
Beneath the towering white structure of the basilica minor lies the last remains of the saint, who once used to be one of the twelve apostles of Christ and came over to India in 52 AD to spread the religion. He is considered to be the patron saint of Christianity in India, as he converted a large population of locals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with his wise words and preaching, and formed the community which now calls themselves Syrian Christians. The museum inside the church displays souvenirs of the great saint and his legend so that the visitors can be acquainted with the glorious past of Santhome Church.
Commonly called the Mount Mary Church by the locals, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount is a Roman Catholic Church situated atop a hillock 262 feet above sea level and is one of the finest specimens of its kind. The church is located in the suburbs of the vibrant city of Mumbai and enjoys a stunning view of the joyfully bustling Arabian Sea as it beautifully reflects different shades of blue.
Standing tall through the test of time for centuries, the Mount Mary Church is visited by people of all faiths to attain some peace and tranquility. The road that leads to the church is flanked by small shops that sell flowers, candles, and other offerings of worship. However, the most unusual offerings are the wax figurines that are sold outside the church. People appeal to Mother Mary by offering her a wax figurine of what they desire- a house, a car, etc. The basilica is a truly grand, yet humble edifice made from nothing but stone.
Stepping into the bicentennial celebratory preparations the St. Mark’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican Church of Bangalore. The glorious canopied cassias, Gul mohurs, temple lilies, jacaranda, rain trees, and silver oaks; some of the oldest trees in the area in the compound impart an ambiance that offsets the cream color of the Church. Named after one of the 12 disciples, this heritage building was modeled on the lines of London’s 17th-century St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built-in 1808, the city’s best-known landmark was struck by many disasters and repairs to finally acquire much of her present beauty. An accidental fire brought down the entire East front of the Church, (1902) that was initially meant for the high-ranking British officers; though the snob value still remains high and was later open to civilians. Reputed Chaplains like Rev. S.T. Pettigrew and Rev. Robert Posnett were credited with the founding of two very old schools, - the Bishop Cotton Boys School and St. John’s School in 1865 and 1853 respectively.
Consecrated in 1816 by the Bishop of Calcutta, its glass-stained large windows with floral motifs, impressive woodwork, pews, imposing musical Organ, the porch of grand Ionic columns, richly carved entrance door, memorial tablets and plaques (1843), and the huge heavy Cross heighten the nostalgia besides adding a touch of magnificence with the dominating dome. It has a marble altar and pulpit with a 700-seating capacity as also accommodation for a 50-member choir. The German Pipe Organ was donated by the family of English cricketer Colin Cowdrey as they owned a house in Bangalore and is still going strong with recent repairs attended by Swiss technicians made possible by the enthusiasm of its very dynamic Rev Vincent Rajkumar. The church prepares many students for taking the Trinity College of Music, London, exams. In 1990 the Church started its own music school and resource Centre.
Located in the heart of the City of Joy - Kolkata, St Paul's is an Anglican cathedral and is a must-visit for those who seek to enrich historical and architectural pleasure on their vacation trips. This colossal structure will surely remind you of colonial times and takes you down memory lane. The church looks most beautiful during the Christmas holidays, when the cathedral, the garden around it as well as the surrounding streets are all bathed in light and festivities.
Primarily built to accommodate the ever-increasing Christian community in Calcutta, it is the first Episcopalian church in Asia. The building follows the Indo-Gothic style and its structure is complete with a cascading white edifice, towering spire, and colorful tinted windows. Inside, it has a huge nave, majestic altar, and chancel, along with carvings and paintings depicting great moments and events in Christian history. The cathedral complex also houses several memorabilia of past congregants and a library where books as old as the church's foundation time still exist donated by founding member Bishop Wilson.
Located in Fort Kochi originally built in 1503, St. Francis CSI Church is the oldest European church in India and has great historical significance as a mute witness to the European colonial struggle in the subcontinent. Built-in timber by the Portuguese in 1503, it was overlaid with stone masonry later. Vasco da Gama was cremated here in 1524. His remains were later removed to Lisbon. His tomb, however, still exists.
According to history, the church was built on the land gifted by the local Raja, and the title deeds written on pam leaf are still kept inside. It became an Anglican church with the advent of the British in 1795 and one hangover from British days is the continued use of manually operated punkahs or fans, the large swinging cloth fans on frames suspended above the congregation. The gravestones were tossed into the walls of the church in 1886. The ‘Doop Book’, that is, old baptism and the marriage register, from 1751 to 1804, kept in the vestry, are the delights of history seekers. A photocopy of the Doop Book is kept outside the vestry to enable interested visitors to glance through it.
Champakulam Kalloorkadu Marth Maryam (St. Mary’s) Basilica, popularly known as St. Mary’s Forane Church is an ancient Syro- Malabar church in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. Constructed in 427 AD, the church is one of the oldest Syrian Catholic churches in all of India. The brilliant architecture, elaborate rock inscriptions, and ancient artifacts boast about the Portuguese influence in the traditional designs and are worth a visit. Legend has it that this church was the first to have been founded by St. Thomas, the apostle himself.
Situated in Champakullam, on the banks of river Pamba, the rich history, legacy, and ingenious architecture attracts a large number of tourists to the spot. The pearly white building is a wonderful amalgamation of Syrian and Portuguese designs. It is believed that this church was the reason for reconciliation between Catholics and Jacobian Syrians centuries ago; hence it is considered a rich heritage of Christianity in India.
Pilgrimage is not compulsory in Christianity, but many Christians choose to undertake journeys to holy sites to deepen their connection with God, to feel connected to the worldwide community of Christians, and to meet Christians from different denominations, to learn more about and feel connected to the history of Christianity, to see sites where miracles happened and receive special blessings, to seek healing or self-acceptance of ailments.