Church of the Holy Rosary
Dhaka [Daca/Dacca], Dhaca, Bangladesh
Dhaka became the capital of the vice-kingdom of Bengal, a vassal of the Mughal Empire, in 1608. The city had already been visited by Portuguese merchants and missionaries by this time. The Augustinian Sebastian de Manrique visited Dhaka around 1629 and left a description of the church administered by his order, a structure that was later mentioned by several travellers and which seems to have been destroyed in the second half of the 18th century. It probably stood near or even inside the grounds of the present Catholic cemetery at Narinda, in the central area of Dhaka. A large community of Portuguese or Portuguese descendants settled in the region of the city, some coming from the area of Chittagong, in the last quarter of the 17th century. According to a report of an English visitor in 1682, this community included 600 men under arms, who were also known as topazes.
Located in the quarter of Tejgaon, about four and a half kilometres from the centre of Dhaka, the Church of the Holy Rosary is the most interesting and best conserved example of all the religious buildings foun- ded by the Portuguese in the region of Bengal from an architectural point of view. Conservation work was carried out during an intervention funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and finished in 2000.
It is not known when the Church of the Holy Rosary of Tejgaon was built. The façade bears the date 1677 and the first mention of a church in the area was made in 1678. According to João Campos, the site and the size of the original building could correspond to the space now occupied by the chancel of the present church, which probably dates from the beginning of the 18th century. New work was carried out in 1799, while a wide-ranging restoration was made in 2004, which probably left the size and essential outline of the church unaltered.
A great part of the architectonic interest of the church lies in its surprising main façade. Its design inte- grates Muslim and Hindu tastes within an essentially Christian organisation – a façade with two towers, entablature/pediment and central portal/arch. The towers are topped by elaborate domes of clear Islamic lines and the portal is flanked by pairs of columns that are likewise Islamic and crowned by a convex arch of Hindu taste. The entablature has various niches, also flanked by pairs of columns in an elaborate triangular composition.
The main body of the church has three naves separated by two lines of six robust columns. The chancel communicates with the central nave through a round triumphal arch decorated with Islamic motifs. An image of Our Lady, probably from the 17th century, is to be found on the high altar and, instead of a retable, the wall behind the altar has an elaborate sculptural composition, again of a hybrid taste and great artistic equilibrium. The outside wall of the high altar has a decorative element that may have belonged to the main façade of the original church. Several tombstones were moved from the floor to the walls of the lateral naves during the course of the most recent restoration work, the oldest epitaph found dating from 1714.
There are at least two other churches in the region of Dhaka, the founding of which is attributed to the Augustinian missionaries of the Portuguese Padroado. According to local tradition, the Church of Saint Nicholas Tolentino at Nagori, which stands about thirty kilometres northeast of the centre of Dhaka, was founded in 1663. A fire completely destroyed the original structure in 1881 and the present-day church dates from 1888. Its reduced height and almost strictly parallelepiped design must be noted. Also of interest was the residence of the priest of Nagori, which was probably from the 19th century but was recently lost. Another church is that of Our Lady of the Rosary at Hashnabad, about forty kilometres to the west of the centre of Dhaka, the construction of which dates from 1777 and which was reconstructed in 1888. There is another church thought to be of Portuguese origin, which has already been mentioned in this book, in the introductory text to this sub-region, in the village of Panjora, about fifty kilometres from Dhaka.