This September 8, when devotees celebrate the birthday of Mother Mary, the parishioners of St, Mary’s Church, Secunderabad, will also be cherishing the ‘Basilica’ status given to the church by the Vatican. This is a distinction not many churches in the world can boast of.
St. Mary’s church has a unique history. Around the year 1850, this massive and majestic Gothic church was the venue of a victory over the highest British authority in India. In a feud for the possession of the church in which the Irish soldiers of the British Regiment were involved, Lord Dalhousie the then Governor General of India faulted and expelled Bishop Daniel Murphy stationed at Secunderabad from his headquarters. Bishop Murphy stayed at Chaderghat for some time. Through the help of General Fraser, then resident of Hyderabad, Bishop Murphy appealed to the Court of Directors, then the highest Court in the British Government at London and got Lord Dalhousie’s order set aside. Bishop Murphy’s victory against the highest British authority in India should be recorded in the country’s history as the first and prophetic victory against the British.
It is interesting that the foundation stone for St. Mary’s Church was laid on August 15, 1847 the feast day of Mother Mary’s Assumption – exactly a century before India became independent and ten years before the Indian Mutiny.
Today, the church continues to attract large number of devotees. A statue of the ‘Mother of Sorrows’ with the body of her crucified son Jesus in her lap at the main entrance of the church is a recent honour to Mother Mary. Then there is another statue in a niche in the tower, showing Mother Mary praying with folded hands and eyes looking heavenward. People of different faiths are found in large numbers offering her flowers, lighting candles before her statue and making offerings, even as they pray with intense faith for healing and other benefits. Many devotees fervently pray the rosary, the most popular devotion to Mother Mary.