Exploring the churches of Puducherry (or Pondicherry) was high on my agenda when I planned a short trip to the former French colony. I had been to Goa and Daman with the same intention and knew Puducherry wouldn’t disappoint. And it didn’t. I had taken an overnight bus journey from Bangalore. After spending the early morning at the Rock Beach and a quick breakfast at Le Cafe, I decided to start my church run. I had three options: rent a bike, hire an auto or walk. Being the photography enthusiast that I am, I chose the third. Since I was at the promenade, I began my exploration with Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges in White Town and took the help of Google maps to reach the other churches.
Here are the five churches I visited.
Our Lady of Angels Church
Also known as Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges, this church is visible from the promenade with its twin towers and impressive dorm being quite a draw. Dating back to 1855, it’s one of Puducherry’s oldest and stands as a fine specimen of Greco-Roman style of church architecture. Modelled on the Notre Dame de Church in Paris, it was designed by Louis Guerre.
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A well-manicured garden featuring an imposing statue of Joan of Arc surrounds this beach-facing church. The statue was a present from French politician Francois Gaudart who came here in 1919. It's also known as the Dumas Church since it’s located on Dumas Street in White Town.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
My second stop was Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, located 1.4km from Our Lady of Angels Church. Standing on Puducherry’s South Boulevard, it was built in 1907 on the wishes of the then Archbishop. The grandeur of the massive church building is enhanced by attractive glass panels that narrate tales from the life and times of Christ. Also noteworthy are the glass paintings of twenty eight saints, who were known for their selfless devotion to Christ. The church also houses a large metal pillar or flagstaff with a cross on its top, a feature commonly found in South Indian churches.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral
Perhaps the most revered church in Puducherry, this one is around a kilometre away from the Sacred Heart Basilica. Over 300 years old, it's popularly known as Samba Kovil or Saint Paul’s Kovil (church). Standing next to the Archbishop’s House, the church was constructed in 1791 and has gone through several facelifts over the years.
It’s also the main mother church of Pondicherry’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The pièce de résistance here is the beautiful statue of Mother Mary in the outer courtyard. The interiors are lovely and adorned with chandeliers. The inner dorm boasts of paintings depicting Catholic tales.
St. John’s Church
Located just 450m from Immaculate Concepetion Cathedral was the peaceful St. John’s Church on White Town’s Victor Simonel Street. Not as well-known as the other cathedrals of Puducherry, the CSI Church of Saint John was constructed in the eighteenth century.
The American make Reed Pump organ here is the church’s most prized possession. It was shifted to St.Luke’s Church in the early nineties but was later shifted back after devotees created quite a furore about it. There was a profound sense of calmness here and I spent about half an hour sitting inside the over 200 year old Anglican property. While here, you must also visit the nearby Sita Cultural Centre.
St. Andrew’s Church
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I had to take an auto for Reddiarpalayam to visit St. Andrews. A prominent landmark of Puducherry, the church was constructed in 1745 by Pedro Kanakaraya Mudaliar, the longest serving interpreter of the French East India Company. It is said that a grand feast was organised for people of all casts and religions on the day of its inauguration, in a first for South India. Locals suggest that the church also had to face the wrath of British officers in 1761 and was rebuilt in 1830. St. Andrew’s Church is also believed to have been the first church in the country to feature Tamil inscriptions.