If you were to compare it with the Nawabi charm of the old city of Hyderabad and its monuments with the Islamic influence, Secunderabad's fair share of architecture and landmarks seems more Victorian. The raison d'etre could perhaps be the British Army being stationed on this part of the twin cities. From its large number of convent schools, churches and multi-ethnic influences to the deluge of English movies regularly screened at the popular Sangeet, the younger of the twins by 200 years decidedly bears the hallmarks of anglicization.
Take a stroll down the busy Sarojini Devi Road, and tucked within its stretch you'll find another of these - the 150-year-old St. Mary's Church. Reminiscent of an old Irish chapel, it has been declared a heritage site. Formerly known as St Mary's Cathedral, this church was the seat and residence of the Vicar Apostolic of Hyderabad. Here's a little bit of history.
Father Daniel Murphy had come to India with Bishop Carew in 1839, and was given the mission of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Most practising Christians will know that there are 4 main categories of Christian places of worship - chapel, church, basilica and cathedral. The cathedral is normally a much larger place of worship than a church, and is run by a bishop. In 1840, Bishop Murphy began to build a cathedral in Secunderabad, which was completed in 1850.
In 1864, owing to failing health, Bishop Murphy was forced to leave India. The vicariate was then entrusted to the Milan Seminary of Foreign Missions. Father Giovanni Domenico Barbero became Vicar Apostolic, and was consecrated Bishop of Doliche, at Rome, 3 April, 1870. He procured some Sisters of St. Anne from Turin, and in 1871 established them at Secunderabad where they opened an orphanage and a girls' school. Popular as the St. Ann's school, it remains the most prominent landmark adjoining the church.
The exterior of the church is clearly Gothic in its architecture. Walk around the church and its edifice, and the deserted unkempt area behind clearly shows signs of being a witness of a bygone era. Sure enough, walk up the steps, and a board informs you that the foundation of the Church was laid, pretty ironically, on 15th August 1847.
The hallowed interior has two altars of Mother Mary and St. Patrick alongside St. Jesus. The church is not as ornate or elaborate as you'd expect from the regular decor of most period places of worship. Perhaps it was decided prayers play more important a role here than beautification. There is a series of stained glasses at the ground level of the church which clearly needs some repair work, but its wooden pews make you want to rest and ponder awhile before taking leave.
There is a small crowd of devotees scattered around on weekdays, lost in pensive veneration. The hush inside, a mark of respect for the spiritual presence, is calming. Right next to the church, within the same premises, is a small prayer room called the St Jude's Shrine, where people come to meditate.
The church opens at the wee hour of 4:30am, and closes by 12:00pm, It again at opens at 3:00pm to close at 8:30 pm. Masses are held in Telugu, Tamil and English. On Sundays there are 7 masses held during the day. The church wakes up from its serenity when there is a marriage or fest happening, which are mainly Christmas and Easter, drawing crowds from both the twin cities.
So the next time you feel the need to imbibe the spirit of Thanksgiving or simply be part of a religious revelry, drop by at the St. Mary's Church and witness its moments of gaiety combined with its Eucharist practice of sobriety. Ave Maria!