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November 9th, 2008

St Thomas’ Cathedral – Mumbai, India

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Once the place of worship of the East India Company, the Anglican St Thomas’ Cathedral is believed to be the oldest British building in Mumbai. It was completed in 1718 in a Neoclassical/Gothic style and contains the tombs of many British parishioners.

History of St Thomas’ Cathedral

The Cathedral of St Thomas (named for the first apostle to India) was begun by Governor Aungier in 1676, but after his death the project was abandoned. The church stood neglected with walls 5 meters high for around 40 years until it was adopted by an East India Company chaplain around 1710.

St Thomas’, the first Anglican church in Mumbai, was finally opened on Christmas Day 1718. The cathedral was given the essential “cannon-ball-proof” roof and was originally divided into sections for different classes of society, including one for “Inferior Women.”

What to See at St Thomas’ Cathedral

St Thomas’ Cathedral is a blend of Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic styles, with a white exterior.

The interior looks much the same today as it did in the 18th century, whitewashed and furnished with polished brass, wood and stained glass windows.

The walls are lined with ornate memorials to British parishioners, many of whom died young of disease or in battle.

Names:– St Thomas’ Cathedral
Type of site: – Cathedral
Faith:– Anglican Christianity
Status:– Active
Dates:– 1676-1718
Architecture:– Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic
Location:– Tamarind Street, downtown Mumbai, India
Hours:– Daily 6:30am-6pm
Cost:– Free

November 9th, 2008

Basilica of Bom Jesus – Goa, India

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The Basilica of Bom Jesus, “Good” or “Infant” Jesus, is a Catholic basilica in Goa, India. It is best known for housing the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary to India and Japan.

One of the richest churches in Goa, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is covered with marble and inlaid with precious stones and paintings depicting the life of St. Francis Xavier. The basilica is considered the finest example of baroque architecture in India.

For Catholics, the chief importance of the Basilica of Bom Jesus is that it shelters the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis’s body was brought to Goa almost 150 years after his death. It was a gift from Medici, Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. It now lies in an airtight glass coffin, placed inside a silver casket fashioned by a 17th century Florentine jeweler.

In 1946, the Basilica of Bom Jesus became the first church of India to be elevated to the status of Minor Basilica.

The chapel attracts large numbers of visitors every year.

November 5th, 2008

Prague – Czech Republic

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The ancient city of Prague hugs the hills rising from the river Vltava. Rows of steeples stacked on onion domes pierce the sky, a spectacle that has earned Prague the moniker “The City of a Thousand Spires.”

Prague has seen many wars and conflicts over its long history, but today it is only hordes of tourists that pound its cobblestone streets. There is much to see of religious interest in Prague, including a Gothic cathedral, countless interesting churches, sites associated with the pre-Luther reformer Jan Hus, and a historic Jewish Quarter that is home to the oldest synagogue in Europe.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Its soaring spires visible from all over Prague, the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála sv Vita) is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe. Construction on the present building began in 1344 and was not completed until the 20th century.

Above the south entrance to the cathedral (through the Golden Portal) is the Last Judgment mosaic. A remarkable work of art in itself, it is also notable in that mosaics are quite rare in northern Europe. The work dates from the 1370s and is made of 1 million pieces of glass and stone. In the center it depicts Christ in glory, adored by Charles IV, his wife and several saints; on the left, the risen dead and angels; and on the right, Satan surrounded by hellfire.

Inside, the square Chapel of St. Wenceslas (Svatováclavská kaple) holds a 14th century tomb with the saint’s holy relics. St. Wenceslas was prince of Bohemia and the “good king” of Christmas carol fame. He founded the original church of St. Vitus on this site in 925 and was killed by his brother four years later. The chapel was built by Peter Parler between 1344 and 1364.

A small door with seven locks in the south-western corner of the St. Wenceslas Chapel leads to the Crown Chamber (Korunní komora) containing the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. It is not open to the public and its seven keys are kept by seven different people. The Royal Crypt contains remains of various royals, but is primarily interesting for the visual history of the cathedral it provides. On the way down the stairs you can see parts of the old Romanesque basilica and the original rotunda church.

A more notable burial is the Sarcophagus of St. John of Nepomuk. According to legend, when Nepomuk was exhumed in 1721, his tongue was found to be not only preserved but pumping with blood. This tale likely served a political purpose: the Church and the Habsburgs needed a new folk hero to replace the reforming heretic Jan Hus. A few years later, Nepomuk was canonized and buried with great ceremony in the present 3,700-pound ornate silver tomb. His tongue was enshrined in its own reliquary.

The Wallenstein Chapel (Valdstejnská kaple) contains the tombstones of its two architects, Mathias d’Arras and Peter Parler, who died in the 14th century.

Old-New Synagogue

The Old-New Synagogue (Czech: Staronová synagóga; German: Alt-neu Schul) in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) of Prague is Europe’s oldest active synagogue and one of the earliest Gothic buildings. It is still active today.

The Old-New Synagogue is still an active center of worship for Prague’s Jewish community. It is not part of the Jewish Museum and there are no museum displays inside. It is well worth a visit, however, for its Gothic architecture and historic importance.

The single-story synagogue consists of a central prayer hall for men, with the women’s gallary surrounding it. The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest surviving example of the medieval twin-nave type of synagogue. Above the bimah (prayer/reading area) hangs a remnant of a red flag with the Star of David, the Jewish symbol. In 1357, Charles IV, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, allowed the Jews of Prague to have their own city flag.

The tattered red banner hanging next to the Jewish flag was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III to the Jews for their help in stopping an invasion by the Swedes in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War. On the east wall is the Ark which contains the Torah scrolls.

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