By Marcellus D’Souza
Apr 14: Where is Calvary in Mumbai? On Pali Hill in Bandra, the Queen of the Suburbs. Bandra is today where film stars reside, high-rises sprout and fast cars zip.
Beyond the shrubs and twines at 37 Pali Hill, is the Chapel of Our Lady of Calvary, also called the Calvary Chapel or O’Calvario. It is a private chapel built by the Fonseca family in 1890. However, for the last couple of years, the chapel which was part of the house, in which the Fonseca family lived, has been lying unused and in ruins, due to an ongoing family dispute but the stained glasses windows still reflect an era gone past.
Writing in “The Mission Field,” a Damaun Diocese publication, Braz A Fernandes in the chapter ‘The Minor Chapels’ writes, “On the crest of the Pali Hill, facing the east, rises the simple structure of the Chapel of Our Lady of Calvary".
The chapel was built by Fr. Manoel Anthony and his brother Fr. Peter Fonseca, sons of Gabriel and Joanna Fonseca of Parwar, a village known up to 1850. The chapel was primarily for private use and for the convenience of the Catholics of the neighbouring villages. On 17th September, 1890, the local Bishop Dom Antonio Pedro da Costa blessed the chapel and declared it open. The chapel belonged to the Diocese of Damaun (which came under Portuguese jurisdiction).
The Fonseca family was an illustrious family who owned large tracks of land across Bandra. The family gained the property from the British for providing them information. Florence Fonseca, an engineer with Indian Airlines was the last to have lived on the upper floor of the housel along with his wife, Prof. Dr. Joyce Fonseca (92) nee D’Mello, a botanist. The outhouse, which belonged to the Propaganda jurisdiction (East Indians) was occupied by the matriarch Mary Fonseca.
According to ‘Bandra: Its Religious and Secular History’ the Stations of the Cross were inaugurated during Lent in 1902 by Fr. Dom Sebastio Jose Pereira. The Stations were enacted, making the Chapel very popular. Those who participated in the Stations of the Cross ascended to the top. Fourteen crosses dotted the way and were spread across the hill, some of them diagonally opposite and some just few steps ahead of the latter. Many devotees used to crawl up the hill on their knees as part of their penance. A newspaper clipping of the time states: “The whole ceremony resembled just as if the people were actually marching to that Calvary where Our Lord was crucified.” The Stations were read in Marathi.
The fourteen crosses were later donated to Our Lady of Bethlehem Church at Dongri, near Mumbai and have been planted in the side of a hill.
The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, with eyes’ looking towards heaven was shipped by a family kin from Rome by sea and is one of its kinds. The statue is now installed at the foot of St. Anne’s Church, Bandra and survives till this day. Historian Teresa Albuquerque who in 1985 authored ‘Urbs prima in Indis: An epoch in the history of Bombay’, recalled seeing the steeples of the Calvary Chapel from her residence in Santacruz. In one of her many writings, she recalls between the chapel and her residence lay sprawling paddy fields. “My sister and I would take a walk there in the evening. There was a well, which to us children appeared enormous and scary,” she says. She also remembers a lady (the matriarch) who was known for her marzipan sweets.
Mass was held on Sundays and days of obligation by a priest from St Andrew’s Church. There was a small altar and benches for people to sit. Sunday Mass was at 7 am and people from the village of Chuim and nearby places would come to hear mass. The chapel used to have a crypt.
The chapel had many graves of priests which were excavated and the bones transferred to St Andrews’ Church before the discontinuation of service. Graves of family’s members were removed in the 1980’s and sent to Sewri and Sion cemeteries in Mumbai. The tombstones were laden with a chronology of a family buried within its space.
Major Leon Fonseca, a descendant of the Fonseca family, says “Earlier, the family had three priests who would take care of the chapel and say Mass there. Then in the 1940s, there was no priest. It was the only private-chapel at the time that was open to public. It even had the blessed Sacrament within it.”
Dr. Joyce Fonseca, the daughter-n-law of the house says, “Calvary was the only green spot in the concrete jungle of Bandra. It was a botanical treat with every flowering and fruit tree. I have lived here since my marriage in 1965 and am proud of the rich history of the villa and the Calvary chapel”.
The Calvary Chapel may be in ruins today but it remains an integral part of the history of Mumbai.
(Professor Marcellus D’Souza teaches Journalism at the University of Mumbai)