Sheltered by the Western Ghats on the east and surrounded by the Arabian Sea on the west, the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi are dotted with many churches, some dating back to the sixteenth century.
Our Lady of Holy Rosary Church in Kundapur, founded by the Portuguese in 1570 is the oldest church in Udupi district with a rich, hoary history of 450 years.
In late 2019, the church drew up plans to start celebrations to mark this important milestone in 2020 but the covid-19 pandemic proved a stumbling block.
“We had planned several activities through this year, religious and social programmes but given the present situation, it became difficult to implement plans,” Fr. Stany Tauro, parish priest said.
Plans to renovate the church have also been deferred, he said. The last renovation of the church took place in the mid-60s.
The origins of this ancient church, for years, was shrouded in misrepresentation. It was believed that the church was built in 1681 by Fr. Joseph Vaz (canonized as Saint in 2015). But research undertaken by Fr. Pratap Naik, a Jesuit priest, proved that the church was built in 1570, a fact that was approved and corrected by the Bishop of Mangalore in the early 80s.
Kundapur was conquered from the Tolar King by the Portuguese in 1570 and a chapel was erected near Kote Bagilu in Kundapur and dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, according to Fr. Naik, Director, Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), Goa.
Three Jesuit priests accompanied the Portuguese army, including Fr. Juao Francisco Estaphanio who, holding a crucifix aloft, encouraged the soldiers to fight.
One of the priests died in the battle but the other two were appointed as parish priest and assistant parish priest and began their missionary activities on the provincial’s orders from Goa. Soon, a hospital was started and in 1572, a dozen Augustinian priests landed in Kundapur to establish a convent. In 1574, many catholic families left Goa to settle down in Kundapur, then called Lower Barcelor.
As the only church in that part of undivided Dakshina Kannada, its jurisdiction extended far on either side of Kundapur. The only other church south-side was the Rosario Cathedral in Mangalore (built in 1568, making it the oldest church in Dakshina Kannada). Northwards, even in Karwar there was no church at the time.
The church has been through troubled times. When Tipu Sultan gained possession of Mangalore in 1784, he received reports about the role of the Christians and their help to the British during the Second Anglo-Mysore War. He issued orders for the seizure of the Christians in Canara and confiscation of their estates. He also ordered the demolition of some 25 churches along the coastline of Mangalore.
After Tipu’s death in 1799, the surviving Mangalorean catholics returned to Mangalore and began reestablishing themselves. Soon, they became a prosperous and influential community comprising mainly planters, manufacturers and agriculturists. They also competed for offices in the services of the British. The rebuilding of demolished churches began soon.
After several renovations in its long history, Our Lady of Rosary Church in Kundapur, today, serves as a parish for around 320 resident families with a daily Mass and two Masses on Sundays in Konkani, the dominant language of the parishioners. The St. Mary’s Educational Institutions in Kundapur come under the administration of the parish.
Every year the titular feast of Our Lady of Rosary is held on October 7 while the parish feast is held in the last week of November. “We were permitted to have a festive Mass and Rosary on the titular feast day this year with all precautions in place,” said Fr. Tauro.
Since the pandemic began, the church, as part of its outreach programme has been providing ‘food kits’ and medical aid to the needy, including non-christians, he said, activities that will continue.
These are challenging times as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of people. But as Fr. Tauro says: “Let Our Lady of Rosary bless all the people of this land and let all good things bestow on them.”
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