Basilica of Our Lady of Graces in Sardhana is a historic church that lives the memory of love and benevolence of the sole female Roman Catholic ruler in India.
Our Lady of Graces Church of Sardhana stands at Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh of northern India. Consecrated in 1822, this 200-feet long church with a high central dome over the main altar, is one of the largest churches in northern India.
The church became a center of national attention when Pope John XXIII elevated it to a Minor Basilica on Dec. 13, 1961. The history of the church is blended with centuries-old religious pluralism and harmony prevalent in the local community in Sardhana.
The Marian Basilica is popularly known as Begum Samru Church. The name refers a Muslim dancer who fell in love with a European soldier, became a Catholic and paved the way for the foundation of the church.
Born in 1753 to a Kashmiri Muslim family in Meerut, Farzana Zeb-un-Nissa went on to become a prolific dancer. At 15, she fell in love and married Walter Reinhardt Sombre, an adventurer and mercenary from Luxembourg. The local community Indianized Sombre’s name as ‘Samru.’ His wife, who became Catholic and took the name Joanna Nobilis Sombre, became known as ‘Begum Samru.’
For years, Sombre served under various rulers in India and led a fiefdom in Sardhana. Under his rule the Principality of Sardhana had a strong, European-styled army. Following his death in 1778, Begum Samru took over the kingdom. She led it as a successful, powerful and invincible ruler until her death in 1836.
As a tribute to her new-found faith, Begum Samru decided to build a church in the style of St. Peter’s Basilica of Rome. She employed Italian architect Antonio Reghellini to oversee the works of top masons of the region. It took 11 years to complete the construction of the church as Reghellini made his best efforts to make the church as beautiful as possible by using precious, colored stones and top-quality marbles. The beautiful church was blessed in 1822. The church is flanked by two large lakes, formed thanks to massive mud excavation for the dream project of Begum Samru.
In 2021, his historical Church marked twin jubilee celebrations – 240 years of Begum Samru’s conversion to Catholicism and 60 years of its elevation as a minor basilica. Begum Samru Church is a must visit for pilgrims and lovers of India’s rich historical heritage.
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