Religious Marvels

Basilica of Our Lady of Graces is a Roman Catholic Church in Sardhana, Meerut

Basilica of Our Lady of Graces is a Roman Catholic Church in Sardhana, Meerut Begum Samru inherited the Jagir of Sardhana after her husband's death in 1778. Subsequently, she decided to construct a Church at Sardhana, dedicated to Virgin Mary. The construction of the Church cost Rs. 4 lakh, a huge amount in those days. Top masons were paid the equivalent of 25 p. per day, and the labourers in shells. Two huge lakes near the church are the result of the mud that was removed to supply the building material for the church. Two dates are often given for the beginning of the church - Mr. K. M. Munshi, the noted historian, gives the date as 1809. Many are inclined to follow this date because a Latin inscription over the main door of the church puts its dedication in 1822. The other date, given by Fr. Keegan in his study of the Begum, is 1820. Begum Samru requested the Pope to make Sardhana an independent circumscription. In 1834, Pope Gregory XVI established the Apostolic Vicariate of Sardhana from the Apostolic Vicariate of Tibet-Hindustan and appointed Bishop Julius Caesar Scotti as the Apostolic Vicar. The church was the cathedral of Sardhana. However, Scotti was the only Vicar Apostolic, and eventually, the Apostolic Vicariate of Sardhana was merged into the Apostolic Vicariate of Agra. On 13 December 1961 Pope John XXIII decided to upgrade the Church to the status of Minor Basilica, a dignity that is bestowed rarely and only on churches that are both historically famous and beautiful.The church is only one of 23 minor basilicas in India and is the only minor basilica in North India. When the Begum built the church she wished to honour Mary, the Mother of Jesus, by dedicating the church to her. But she never could have dreamt that her church would honour Mary in the way it does today. Today the church is a centre of Marian devotion. It enshrines the Sacred Image of Our Lady of Graces, which Pope John XXIII, in his decree raising the church to a Basilica, calls, ``by far the most illustrious ornament in the church.'' The idea of a Shrine to our Lady was considered seriously for the first time during the Marian year of 1954. Pilgrimages were organised to this church dedicated to Our Lady to celebrate the first centenary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Already in 1950, to celebrate the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary, pilgrimates had been made to this Marian church. The people by these pilgrimages, had shown that they considered this church as Mary's own, where they would come when they wished to honour her in a special way. So why not respond to this desire and make the church into a shrine ? In 1955, when the then co-adjutor Archbishop of Agra, Most Rev. J.B. Evangelisti, O.F.M. (Cap), was in Italy, he had occasion to speak to the inhabitants of Leghorn, a town in the province of Tuscany. Near Leghorn, on the hill of Montenero, is the famous shrine of Our Lady of Graces. His Graces expressed the desire to have a copy of that miraculous Image of their Madonna for his church at Sardhana. The people responded enthusiastically and got a good painter to do the job. The picture is painted on wood in well chosen and inspiring colours. Our Lady is depicted seated, holding Jesus on her knee. With His right hand Jesus clings to His Mother, while with His left He holds a string, tied to the leg of a bird, which rests on Mary's arm. The bird represents the soul. The meaning is obvious : `To Jesus through Mary'. The soul that seeks Mary comes closer to Jesus. Devotion to the Mother ensures union with the Son. As Jesus came to us through Mary, so he wants us to come to Him through Her. The title, Our Lady of Graces, is the short form of ``Our Lady Mediatrix of all graces.'' This title simply means that as Mary cooperated in the Redemptive work of Her Son, by preparing and giving Him His body for sacrifice, and assisting at the Sacrifice of the Cross, so now she assists in the distribution of the fruits of His Incarnation and death. At Christmas she presented Him in His Flesh to us; now she presents Him in His graces to us. The people of Leghorn themselves donated two gold crowns that were affixed to the picture. These were stolen in 1972. On receiving this precious gift, His Grace took it with him when he went for an audience with the saintly Pope Pius XII on 25th September 1955, and laid before the Pontiff his plan of starting a shrine in northern India. The Pope most willingly approved of the idea. He venerated the Image and blessed it, expressing his conviction that the Blessed Virgin would do great things for the people of India. The Archbishop then took the Sacred Image to St. Padre Pio, the stigmatist, blessed with five wounds similar to the wounds of Our Lord, who was beatified in 1999. Father Pio rejoiced at the Archbishop's plan. He blessed the Image and kissed it devoutly, promising to pray to Our Lady to be generous with her children in India. In 1956 His Grace was appointed Bishop of the new diocese of Meerut. He fixed the solemn opening of the shrine for 7th November 1957. My special thanks to Father Sachin of the Sardhana Church and to Mr Ghaeiour Alam Khan ji of Sardhana who took me to the Church and gave his precious time to me.



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