Immaculate Church Pondicherry

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Immaculate Church Pondicherry

Immaculate Conception Cathedral is the cathedral mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore. It is located in the Union territory of Pondicherry. It is also called as “Samba Kovil”, which is a phonetic corruption of “Saint Paul’s Kovil” where “Kovil” means church.

History of  Immaculate Church Pondicherry

The Jesuit Fathers came to the French colony of Pondicherry as missionaries in 1689. There they bought a very large garden to the West of the French Fort. In the 1692 they, with the financial help of Louis XIV, king of France, erected a beautiful church which was demolished by the Dutch in the following year. A second Church was quickly built in 1699 but could not last long.

From 1728 to 1736 a large beautiful church was built on the site of the present Cathedral. This third church was razed to the ground by the British in 1761 during the Seven Years War.

Erecting in 1765 provisionally ( fourth in serial ) a functional kind of irregular shaped shed where the Mission Press ( official press depot of the archdiocese ) in now, since the year 1770 the Fathers were earnest in building the present cathedral on the foundations of the 3rd Church. On 20 June 1791 the main work was finished and the Church was consecrated by Bishop Champenois. The Bell tower was built later. The choir loft was added in 1905. The Sanctuary was remodeled in the year 1970. the esplanade in front of the Cathedral has been remodeled in 1987, to allow people to take part in liturgical ceremonies and special functions held outside.]

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The Fest of this Church i.e., Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary falls on the 8th of December. Now The church which stands for around 300 years is also the place where the bishop house is also situated. Mass services in Tamil and English are conducted.
It is one of the oldest tourist site in Pondicherry. This Church was also visited by Mother Theresa during her visit to Pondicherry.

Controversies With The Name

As an after math of Demolition of Babri Masjid, Pondicherry chapter of Bharatiya Janata Party threatened to destroy the Cathedral saying that it was build on a former Hindu temple called Vedapureeshwarar Temple dedicated for Lord Shiva under the name, Samba Eswar. For the next few weeks Cathedral was given police protection after this threat.

In the following weeks the then Archbishop, Michael Augustine and the Government of Pondicherry started independent investigation to find out the truth in this matter. Their findings were : A building under the name Vedapureeshwarar Temple was indeed destroyed by Jeanne Dupleix, wife of Joseph François Dupleix, governor general of the French establishment in India. But Cathedral existed even before that event, and the temple was rebuilt in the same site.

There is no record that name Samba Eswar was used for Lord Shiva in this region. And the word “samba” is a phonetic corruption of “Saint Paul’s Kovil”. There is no historical evidence that there existed a Temple in the current site of the Cathedral.

These findings were largely based on the letters to Rome by French Fathers stationed in Pondicherry at the time period and more importantly by the Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai.

The portion of the diary which describes the destruction of the Temple is as follows : Sunday 8th, September 1750,

Yesterday 200 soldiers, 60 or 70 troopers and sepoys were stationed at St Paul’s Church in view of the matter on hand. This morning, M Gerbault ( the engineer ), the priests with diggers, masons, coolies and other 200 in all, with spades, pickaxes and whatever needed to demolish walls began to pull down the southern wall of the Vedpuri Ishwaran Temple and the outhouses.

At once the temple manager, Braahmans and mendicants came and told me … Just then … news was brought that Father COEURDOUX , the superior of St. Paul’S church had kicked the inner shrine with his foot and had ordered the Coffrees to remove the doors and the Christians to break the Vaahanams.( Pillai now went to Governor Dupliex in an attempt to save the temple as did the other caste leaders who sought to save the temple’s movable articles but it was all to no avail ). These findings were later confirmed by Writer and historian Prapanchan from Pondicherry.

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