A mast of a ship on display in front of the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Bandel in West Bengal's Hooghly district for the past 355 years was severely damaged in a thunderstorm on Sunday. An uprooted tree fell on it and smashed it to pieces.

Natives of the Portuguese church have a deep mystical connection with the mast, which was donated to the church by a captain of a ship in 1655.

The history etched on a plaque resting at the bottom of the mast says that once a ship with Portuguese crew encountered a storm in the Bay of Bengal and was on the verge of sinking. Its captain, along with the crew, prayed to the Virgin Mary and vowed to offer the largest mast of the ship to the first church on the Hooghly they came across, if they were saved.

Keeping up his word, he donated the mast to the church and it had been on display in front of the church all these years, attracting thousands of visitors round the year.

‘Power of faith'

Reverend Father Thomas Gomes, Prior of Bandel Basilica, told The Hindu on Tuesday that the mast represents the power of faith that the captain had in the Almighty and had him reach the shore safely.

He said that the mast was renovated few years ago when its base was concretised.

“We have decided to take the suggestion from organisations who deal with antique structure-repairing before restoring the mast. A study needs to be done and then a decision has to be taken as to how to put together the remaining pieces. We are also contemplating of putting up a plaque with details of the mast's original dimensions,” he said.

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