The Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Pondicherry

“When you can’t put your prayer into words, God hears your heart.”

– Anonymous

I truly believe in this quote, and that is probably one of the reasons I felt so much at peace, meditating in the pews of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pondicherry. 

The stunning stained glass windows, the chandeliers and intricate gold artwork on the walls, the beautifully decorated altar, the ornate art frames & statues, and the exquisite architecture of this centuries-old church is something that has to be experienced personally. Just like my prayers, I may not be able to put my thoughts into words – but let me give it a try!

I love traveling and exploring places, and Pondicherry (or as it is now called Puducherry) is a place close to my heart. I have been there thrice, and each visit has given me a different experience and new sights. Incidentally, Puducherry was also my unofficial honeymoon destination. What I love about the city is how the French heritage seamlessly blends into the Tamil culture of the region, making it a unique environment for a visitor. A stroll through the quaint French colony is sure to transport you to a different time and place. The yellow & white & blue row houses on either side of the narrow road that leads to the beach, the blooming vines cascading down the balconies, the Victorian-style metallic sconces & wooden railings, foreigners on two-wheelers, some beautiful graffiti – all add to the old world charm of the place.

The Experience

Since I have the habit of Googling and making a list of places to visit (a habit extremely detested by the man of the House cum Driver) we had to drive around the colony a couple of times to locate this Church. Located on Mission Street, this 300-year-old church resembles the Portuguese-style churches in Old Goa. The golden statue of Christ the King, in front of an imposing facade, greeted us, momentarily reeling me and making me let out a gasp of amazement. We walked around the campus, admiring the beauty of the blue-white-orange building, unsure about the entry. But the church was wide open, and the few people around were not looking at us strangely, so we proceeded to go inside. And my my! What a sight it was!

We entered through a side door, which led to the altar. There were beautiful statues in alcoves, tastefully painted in various hues. The altar itself was minimally decorated with a simple golden Jesus-on-a-cross figure. The simple blue and white designs on the domed ceiling seemed to provide a non-intrusive backdrop to the altar so that your attention doesn’t waver away from Him. From the altar, you could see the double row of wooden benches, the black & white checkered floor gleaming with the multicolored light filtering through the stained glass windows, and the blue wooden door opening to bright sunny light. We walked around the church, quietly admiring the art frames dotting the walls – each one depicting Biblical characters and stories.

As I reached the front door and I looked back at the altar, a sudden nostalgia gripped me. I felt like I was back in the small Chapel of my Convent School, where I prayed every day after lunch. I told my husband and daughter that I wanted some alone time, so they ventured out to see the garden and campus. I kneeled down on the footrest, clasped my hands together resting them on the bench in front of me, bowed my head, and closed my eyes. I have no memory of what thoughts blazed through my head then – or maybe it went blank – but the peace I felt inside was so overwhelming, I didn’t notice the wetness that had started forming on my cheeks. After a while, I got up, went to the front of the pew, and just sat there staring at the altar until my daughter came and said its time to go.

Filled with tranquility and mesmerized by the majestic views in front of me, I left the Church with some beautiful memories to cherish.

About The Church

I am told there has been some renovation in the Church after I visited in 2014, and Google Images tell me there are much grander paintings adorning the altar niche now. I missed seeing the bell tower, which is said to have a huge bell. We didn’t have anyone to tell us about the history & significance of the Church so I Googled it up later on. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee Church) is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore and is locally called Samba Kovil ( a corruption of St. Paul’s ‘temple/church’ in the local Tamil dialect)

 Pondicherry was a French Colony in the 17th century. The Jesuit Fathers came here as missionaries and established a church in 1692. After being razed by the Dutch, British, and others and rebuilt three times, a majestic church was finally consecrated in 1791. The Sanctuary was remodeled in 1970. The church is dedicated to St. Peters and currently is the residence of the Bishop.

The Annual Fest of this Church is the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary that falls on December 8th every year. It was blessed by the visit of Mother Teresa during her visit to Puducherry.

Being in Pondicherry is relaxing in itself, but do visit this church for soaking in some colonial grandeur and calmness.

Written By-

Deepa Perumal
Deepa Perumal

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