A visual treat awaits visitors to the famous Bandel Church, founded in 1599 on the banks of the Hooghly river in West Bengal, this Christmas.
The church, the oldest in eastern India, is getting ready for the biggest Christmas celebration in 20 years with the setting up of 'The Stations of The Cross' that will depict Christ's crucifixion.
Also on display will be the historic 'Mast' from which the Church and the town gets their names and a newly-renovated grand 'doorway' that leads to the Church's hallowed precincts where millions from India and abroad come to pray each year.
Over one lakh visitors of all religious beliefs are expected to visit the church on Christmas Day and as many on New Year's day, the church authorities said.
Visitors are thronging the church just to have a glimpse of the baby Jesus kept in the creatively made crib set which would be on display, Prior of the Bandel Church Fr T L Francis told PTI.
The much-awaited facelift of Bandel Church, originally planned to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the church in 1999, had to be stalled due to litigation over church ownership.
The church, declared a mini Basilica by Pope John Paul II, is dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Rosario - Our Lady of the Rosary. Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta recently assigned Bandel Basilica Church as one of the designated churches to obtain blessings and graces connected with the Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis when he symbolically opened the "Holy Door" of St Peter's Basilica in Rome to the pilgrims on December 8, 2015.
Fr Francis expressed satisfation at the completion of the facelift at the end the dispute.
He said that three major renovations have been implemented this year. First, the restoration and display of the historical 'Mast' which had fallen down in a Norwester in 2010. The Portuguese ship's mast was a votive offering to the church from the captain of the ship that was miraculously saved in a tempest in the Bay of Bengal.
The Mast will once again be on display in a glass case surrounded by the Station of Cross, Fr Francis said adding the name Bandel comes from the Portuguese word Bandel which means mast.
The installation of 14 Stations of the Cross in the field in front of the shrine with 54 life-size statues depicting scenes of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary to be crucified is bound to evoke piety and prayer among the visitors, he said.
"In addition, the main door at the riverside entrance of the basilica has been embellished with relief motives depicting religious themes. Plans for landscaping the church field to create an atmosphere of prayer and devotion will soon be implemented," Fr Francis said. A newly-erected grand door with religious motifs would be another attraction. The symbolism of opening the Holy Door is linked to the words of Jesus "I am the door" (John10:7), and bringing to fruition the words of the Psalmist, who said, "This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter (Psalm 118:20)," says Subrata Ganguly of 'Church Art' - a company specialising in designing art work for churches.
An Archaeological Survey Team had visited and declared the Mast a heritage item and directed the PWD department to re-erect it at the spot where it stood.
After a gap of almost four years, the Mast will once again be displayed in a glass case surrounded by the Station of Cross. All these years the Church had received many inquiries about The Mast.
Bandel Church is not only a pilgrim and tourist destination, but also a power house of intercessory prayers for various needs of people who come to seek Mother Mary's blessings.