St. Michael’s Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches as well as one of oldest existing Portuguese buildings in Mumbai. The church is situated in Mahim, located at the intersection of L.J. Road and Mahim Causeway. Due to its location, it is also informally known as Mahim Church. The church is famous for its Novenas on Wednesdays, which is visited by thousands.
The church, originally built in 1534, is rebuilt a number of times, the present structure dating to 1973. The church also served a refuge to popular icon of the Virgin Mary from Our Lady of the Mount chapel, Bandra from 1739 to 1761. In 1853, the Church witnessed a showdown between vicars Apostolic and the Portuguese padroado order for the control of the Church. In recent history, on 27 June, 2008, thousands of devotees visited the Church to see a reported “bleeding” Jesus Christ’s portrait, which was termed as a “miracle” by devotees. Though on further investigation, the red spots on the picture showed no traces of blood.
Christians, but also adherents of other faiths congregate to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary and attend mass every Wednesday. Devotees believe that visiting the Church on nine consecutive Wednesdays (Novena) will grant their wishes. They offer floral garlands according to the Hindu customs and repeat prayers before the image. Some of them offer wax figures of what they desire, for example, a wax house. According to Father Hugh Fonseca, around 40-50,000 devotees visit the church every week.
The weekly Novena services were started in 1948, when a priest Fr. Edward Placidus Fernandes from Mumbai noticed a similar ritual celebrating Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Belfast, Northern Ireland, during his visit to Europe. Fr. Fernandes brought with him a picture touched to the original Our Lady of Perpetual Succour picture at Rome. On the 8th of September, 1948 – the Birthday of Mary, concurrent with a Wednesday that year, Fr. Fernandes as the vicar held the first Novena services. Initially, only two services were held every Wednesday, but today from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm, the thirteen services are held in various languages: English, Konkani, Marathi, Tamil and Hindi.
The interior of the ChurchThe original St. Michael’s Church is believed to have been built in 1534 by António do Porto, a church builder of the Franciscan Order. Back then, the Church also served as Franciscan convent and was based on the bank of river Mandave. It is described to be a “large and beautiful church … with large veranda before the portal …” Since then, St. Michael’s was frequently rebuilt, retaining nothing but just original plan.
When the Marathas conquered Salsette in 1739, Our Lady of the Mount chapel in Bandra was destroyed by the Portuguese at the instance of the British so that its location remained secret to the Marathas. In this time, St. Michael’s Church was the refuge place for the image of the Blessed Virgin from the chapel. The image remained in St. Michael’s till 1761, when it was moved to its present structure in Bandra.
In 1853, St. Michael’s Church witnessed a struggle between Bishop Anastasius Hartmann and the padroado order. St. Michael’s was in control of the vicars apostolic for nearly 60 years. In 1853, a discontented group decided that the control be handed over to the padroado party. To prevent this, Hartmann as the vicars’s leader, went to the church and declared that “he would rather die a martyr than surrender the church to the schismatics”. Hartmann and his followers stayed in the church with enough food and water for 15 days. Hartmann’s opponents had laid “siege” to the church in this period, blocking all entrances. On the 15th day, civil authorities intervened and insisted that the church be reopened. Following this, Hartmann lost control of the church, passing it to padroado order.
In his 1917 book, Sheppard remarks that St. Michael’s was situated on the Portuguese Church Street and is one of the four “only known Portuguese buildings; and of these no distinguishing original feature survives, as they were much rebuilt”.The present structure of St. Michaels was rebuilt in 1973.
On 27 June, 2008, thousands of devotees visited St. Michael’s to see the picture of Jesus called “the Divine Mercy”. The picture showed some red spots which were believed to be blood near the heart of Jesus. The spots were noticed on the day at 8.30 pm on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and were termed as a “miracle” by devotees. Not only Chiristians, but also Hindus and Muslims from Maharashtra and the neighbouring states of Goa, Karnataka and Gujarat, visited the Church to catch a glimpse of the picture. The queue to St. Michael’s extended more than a kilometre.
Parish Priest Father Raphael and Father Doneth D’Souza from the St. Michael’s church as well as Archbishop cardinal Oswald Gracias declined the miracle claim. Fr. D’Souza explained “It’s not a blood stain and it’s also not a miracle. Every image of Divine Mercy has a red halo around the heart and in this case, the red colour has run because of the moisture in the air. It will look like a blood stain, but it’s not.”
The image was removed and sent to a scientific analysis on the orders of Oswald Gracias. The result of that study was released in the September archdiocesan weekly and it said that the tests “established that there are no traces of blood in the red rays emanating from the Heart of Jesus in this image of Divine Mercy”. Monsoon humidity and changes in the air quality were the suspected causes, Oswald Gracias did not explain the exact reasons.
Pictures : CNS News Service