October 07, 2012

Sacred Heart Church, Calcutta

When you are sitting in a class, being bored to death, almost everything else seems interesting – the colors of the leaves outside the classroom, the various bird songs being played out, the behavior of people around yourself & such. Thoughts come floating into mind, unfettered like clouds, memories come flashing, you think, you feel & occasionally you start writing (or doodling, as in my case). This time it was different, I had just returned from Calcutta, & was lost in thoughts about the places I visited, the photographs I took, the people I met. I reminisced about John, the organ player at St. John’s Church (see http://pixels-memories.blogspot.in/2012/09/st-johns-church-calcutta.html for more details & photographs of St. John's Church), about the policemen at Writer’s Building (see http://pixels-memories.blogspot.in/2012/09/writers-building-calcutta.html), & also about the foreigner priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Soon my thoughts drifted to Sacred Heart. The church, looming over one of the most crowded areas of Calcutta, & yet isolated from its surroundings – one of those places that somehow become invisible to passer-bys & tourists alike, not many people tread its peaceful grounds, & yet the church boasts of a hospital & a basketball court. In fact the only signs of life in here were the patients flitting in & out of the hospital, & the kids playing a lively game of basketball (all of whom stopped to stare at yours truly who was perhaps intruding upon their peaceful lives by bringing a camera in their midst). The courtyard first led to the charitable hospital & then the church. Two statues – one of Jesus & the other of “Mother of Sorrow” (referring to Virgin Mary), both placed in small enclosures (European-style chattris they might be), demarcated the pathway from the basketball court.

Sacred Heart Church

The Sacred Heart Church was established by one Mrs. Pascoa Barettoe Souza in fulfillment of a vow of hers. The construction of this Gothic building took 2 years to complete, & it was thrown open as a Roman Catholic Church for the native Portuguese community in 1834. The church was renovated in early 1970s. I walked in the church, the prayer chamber is separated from the outer chamber by a grille & a door. When I reached the priest was leading a prayer, there were only two nuns & three devotees singing along with him. The prayer was sung very melodiously, the tenor rising & falling alternatively, the high bass of the priest’s voice merging with the sweetness of the nuns. I waited in the outer chamber for the prayers to end, observing the customs & manners all this while. Small benches & some chairs were the only furniture in the small outer chamber, several idols adored the walls & medallions depicting the life & struggle of Jesus hung from nails around the room. In the end, the priest closed his prayer book & kept it adoringly in a small curtain-covered cupboard in the wall behind the altar, the nuns went individually to each devotee, they seemed to know each other personally since the nuns called the visitors by name, & placing a hand on each person’s head they recited small couplets.

One of the statues & the medallions in the outer chamber

The priest was quick to grant me the permission to photograph the interiors, provided I was discreet about it. Soon I was left alone in the prayer chamber on the priest’s orders. I had a quick look around & started composing my pictures from different angles. The prayer chamber too was very small, rows of benches were placed in straight lines.

Altar view..

A golden cross & several candles & incense rested upon the stone altar. The altar itself was emblazoned with designs & patterns. Soon the caretaker returned & started packing the cross & the silks to be kept in a side room. After a few more minutes, I stepped out into the outer chamber, allowing the caretaker to lock the door.

The Cross

I had company now. A visitor came & sat in the outer chamber, praying reverentially with head bowed & hands clasped. Soon it was time to go, I step outside to again come face-to-face with the chaos & humdrum of Calcutta.

& the visitor

The kids still played basketball, the patients & their relatives still moved in & out, & the guards still sat lazily next to the gate – only no one stopped this time as I again entered their quite lives, with my camera pointed towards the statues of Jesus & “Mother” lining the courtyard, & also towards the hospital’s foundation stone, set in the wall next to its entrance. The hospital had come to life now, the church had closed. But to a true believer, can a church actually close??

The church is closed..

Location : Sidho Kano Dahar Street, near Esplanade Bus Terminus
How to reach : One can simply walk from Esplanade Bus Terminus  - walk straight away  the Oberoi Hotel & towards the golden-domed Metropolitan Building, at the first intersection on the right, the church stands close to Tipu Sultan Mosque (see http://pixels-memories.blogspot.in/2012/09/tipu-sultan-mosque-calcutta.html for more details & photographs). Taxis & buses can be availed from different parts of the city.
Open : All days, Sunrise - sunset
Entrance Fee : Nil
Photography/Video Charges : Nil
Time required for sightseeing : 30 min

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written! I like the description, especially of the scene outside the Church!