Chasing Portuguese structures in Thane, a team of researchers and archaeologists from Mumbai University’s Centre for Extra Mural Studies (CEMS) stumbled upon an almost two centuries old Anglican church, earlier mistakenly known as a Portuguese church by Thanekars. The team has now been trying to convince the locals about its origins. They would, however, much rather believe the stories their ancestors told them about.
A protestant church built in 1825 in Thane along with a cemetery in the backyard has a list of names of the priest-in-charge and members. As the researchers found, they are either English, Irish or Scottish. The research is part of the CEMS’s exploration project of the salsette region (a stretch between Mahim creek-Bandra-Vasai creek). The team headed by Dr Kurush Dalal was exploring Thane and beyond for the archealogical remnants, especially those with traces of Portuguese architecture.
“We visited the St James Church in Thane last year, following talks of it being a Portuguese church dating back to the 17th or 18 century. However, after studying the structure and other details pertaining to it, we found that the church has nothing Portuguese about it. It is purely an Anglican church according to our research. However while interviewing locals, we found that they call it a Portuguese church for decades,” said Dr Kurush Dalal, deputy director of CEMS who headed the team which explored Thane zone.
The entrance of the church is flanked by six huge pillars each 15 feet high. According to the priest in charge the church was managed by the British government during the pre-Independence period, now it falls under the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association.
According to Dalal, Portuguese architecture has original and peculiar characteristics that were exported to all its colonies in India, Africa, etc. Portuguese Jesuitical architecture followed the Baroque model, which is not in the case of St James Church.
“The closest comparison is St John, the Baptist church in Thane, originally St Francis church dating back to 1535, has hundred per cent Portuguese architecture. The conical style roof, other architectural remnants found at St James Church, the old graveyards, memorial tablets bearing English, Irish and Scottish names point out the Anglican Origin of the church,” added Dalal.
The priest in charge of the church, Rev Rajendra Bhonsale, said, “The church was built for English officers, civic servants such as collectors and magistrates posted in Thane during that time. We have preserved stone and marble tablets raised in their memory in those time. It is an Anglican church even though locals call it a Portuguese church.”
The Pednekar family, who has been living in the compound of the church for over five decades, claim they have heard stories about the church from their family. “We often heard from our father and grandfather that the church was built by Portuguese. However what difference does it make? We live in the compound of this church and have been entrusted with task of its caretakers,” said Viresh Pednekar, who lives in the St James Church compound with his 74-year-old father Vinod.
Historian Sadashiv Tetwilkar said, “Locals believe hearsay and stories told to them. The older the story, the more authentic they feel it is. Everything in the church including the architecture points out it is an Anglican church. Interestingly, there is almost a two century old tomb in the middle of the cemetery that has some message carved on it in ancient Marathi script. No matter what, the locals will continue to call it Portuguese church, as they have known it to be.”
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