The Magnificent and beautiful Cathedral of Raiganj


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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Moodubelle, 27 March 2011: The magnificent and beautiful cathedral dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of Raiganj Diocese stands as the testimony of the faith and support of the people of the diocese, the pastoral leadership provided by Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. and the meticulous planning and implementation by Fr. Sunny M.V., the treasurer of the diocese and secretary of the Bishop.  The spacious cathedral towering towards the blue skies is a gem of architecture with exquisite glass and ceiling paintings, prominent pillars on both sides modeled on Greek pillars, beautifully carved doors and magnificent high altar with an hexagonal dome on top of it with eye-catching paintings.  This cathedral that took three years and ten months to complete was inaugurated and dedicated by Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. on  17 November 2010.

 

 

The background to the construction of this magnificent cathedral has an interesting history. As every great thing has a humble beginning, it was way back in 1962, Fr. Albinus Kujur began a mission center at Chotaparua in a small tin house which had a chapel, living room and a refectory. When the Diocese of Raiganj was erected in 1978 the first Bishop Leo Tigga S.J. stayed in the same house till the present Bishop’s House was constructed. Realizing the need to have a larger parish church, it was Fr. Verghese Kozhikadan who began the construction of the parish church in 1972 which was completed in 1974. This tin roofed church subsequently became the cathedral of the Raiganj Diocese when the diocese was created in 1978. The same  church continued to serve as the cathedral of the diocese when Dr. Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. was appointed as the Bishop of Raiganj.

 

As the old tin roofed cathedral had been leaking during the rainy seasons and the space being inadequate to hold the increasing catholic population, there had been a proposal since 2002 to have a new building for the cathedral. However, being concerned with the spiritual and material wellbeing of the people, Bishop Alphonsus was not keen on spending huge amount of money that was required for  the construction of a new cathedral.

 


Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza S.J.

 

It was in 2004, while accompanying Bishop Alphonsus from the Malda railway station on his way back from a visit to his native village in Moodubelle, the treasurer of the diocese and secretary to the Bishop, Fr. Sunny M.V. once again put forward the suggestion for a new building for the cathedral.  The Bishop thought for a while and said that the proposal can be considered.

 


Fr. Sunny M.V.

 

Having given his consent to have a new cathedral, Bishop Alphonsus constituted a committee with Fr. Sunny as the convener and Vicar Generals-Fr. S.  Santhappan and Fr. Patras Bara, Fr. Michael Raj and the then Pro-Vicar, Fr. Kishore Baxla as members to plan and execute the construction of the cathedral in 2005. It took nearly one year to get the necessary permission from the government authorities and another year to finalize the plan of the cathedral.

 

 

Having assigned the task of preparing a plan for the cathedral, Fr. Sunny wanted to see some of the famous churches and cathedrals in different parts of India and  went to various places such as Kerala, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. However, while observing various churches and cathedrals, Fr. Sunny had no intention of copying their architecture, but to get inspiration to produce a unique type of architecture without a parallel in the entire country.  He accessed internet for various types of European architecture right from Gothic to Renaissance and from Roman to Greek and Baroque. Piecing together the examples that he had collected from his visits to various churches and cathedrals in India and from the internet, Fr. Sunny with the help of a local artist Gurupada Sarkar prepared a drawing and approached an architect in Kolkata, Arvinda Chatterjee who prepared the final structural plan.

 

With the plan of the proposed new cathedral in hand, the foundation stone for the construction was laid behind the existing dilapidated old cathedral on 9 January 2007. The construction work went on for three years and ten months under the guidance of Bishop Alphonsus and active supervision of Fr. Sunny.  Following the completion of the construction of the cathedral it was inaugurated, blessed and dedicated on 17 November 2010 by Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. in the presence of eight other  Bishops  including the Archbishop of Patna and Bishops of Purnea, Baruipur, Asansol, Krishnagar, Bagdogra, Jalpaiguri and  Darjeeling. The dedication ceremony was attended by many Major Superiors, 600 priests and religious and about 30,000 faithful from all over West Bengal and nearby dioceses of Dumka and Purnea.

 

The inauguration of the cathedral was a treat to the eyes with a grand procession in which the Santals presented their tribal dances and drumbeats. The statues of St. Joseph and Mother Mary were taken  in procession to the cathedral. Following the inauguration and blessing of the cathedral, all people participating in the grand ceremony were provided lunch. There was also cultural programme that was appreciated by one and all.

 

 

On my recent visit to Raiganj along with the relatives of Bishop Alphonsus, I had an opportunity to view and take pictures of the cathedral and have an interaction with Fr. Sunny, whom Bishop Alphonsus calls the ‘chief architect’ of the cathedral. The Bishop is highly appreciative of the way in which Fr. Sunny was able to plan and execute the entire construction and other work associated with the completion of the magnificent and beautiful cathedral.

 

The cathedral is a gem of an architecture presenting unique architectural and artistic features that sets it apart from other cathedrals not only in West Bengal, but probably the whole of north India. The 12,500 square feet cathedral is 95 feet  high in the front elevation has a capacity of 2000. It has beautifully designed granite and marble floors and walls, galleries, oil paintings, stained glass windows with scenes from Old and New Testament, exclusive wooden, cement and fiber works, huge decorated pillars, large carved wooden doors, an attractive high altar and large beautiful statues. Even the rear end of the cathedral has been exquisitely developed with a large ‘Pieta’ statue (Mother Mary holding the body of  crucified Christ) and a beautiful semi-circular rose garden adding to the elegance of the entire edifice.

 

 

A number of artists from different parts of West Bengal had worked in different capacities in making the cathedral one of the most attractive monument that has been visited by a large number of tourists and pilgrims since its inauguration in November 2010. According to Fr. Sunny, the pillars and ornamental work was done by the masons from Mayapur where the world famous ISKON center is located. The stain glasses depicting the scenes from the Old Testament in the lower windows and scenes from the New Testament in upper rows were executed by artists from Krishnagar in Nadia district of West Bengal.

 

 

 

The oil paintings were done by the local artist, Guruprada Sarkar. Wooden carvings and other works were by artists from Don Bosco Technical School of Krishnagar. Wood from the ceiling of the old church was used for wooden paneling in the considerable area in the new cathedral. The large crucifix and the main high altar made by fiber along with some ceiling panels and the huge ‘Pieta’ statue behind the cathedral were done by an artist, Jayadev Karmarakar from Behrampur in Murshidabad district. The other statues were prepared by Dileep Vishwas of Krishnagar. Marble and granite work was done under the supervision of Fr. Sunny. The extensive texture work on the entire ceiling and the walls was done by painters from Malda. The limestone covering the front façade of the cathedral was brought from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The steel railings in the cathedral were prepared by metal experts from Siliguri. The beauty and elegance of the cathedral is enhanced by a massive front gate.

 

While being quite proud of his achievement in constructing such a magnificent and beautiful cathedral, Fr. Sunny in all his humility says that he was able to accomplish this gigantic task with the full confidence reposed in him and the unstinted support given to him by Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. and the complete cooperation of all the committee members and the support from all the masons, workers, artists and the people in general.

 

 

As we were in Raiganj for the Ash Wednesday, we attended the mass celebrated by Bishop Alphonsus. The mass was in Bengali language and most of the people attending the mass were of Santal tribals. There were a large number of small children who stay in the hostels provided by the diocese and attend St. Joseph’s Primary and St. Joseph’s Girls High School next to the cathedral.

 

 

Comments on this Article
renu, hoshiarpur Wed, March-16-2016, 3:01
hello sir i have a question is there any superstitious thing or story popular about piplan village
Vincent Soosai, Canada Wed, March-19-2014, 6:06
Hi Fr. Sunny, Congratulations for your tremendous service. You are indeed privileged to work with Rt. Rev. Dr. Alphonsus D Souza Sj. Could you please email some Cathedral photographs. Thanks.
Fr. M.V .Sunny, Raiganj Sun, July-17-2011, 5:33
Thanks a lot to Dr.Eugene for your wonderful write up and photos. Thanks also to Francis and George for your appreciation.
Francis Noronha, Mumbai Sun, March-27-2011, 2:57
Praiseworthy efforts from Fr. Sunny. May god bless you abundantly for your hard efforts and missionary work. Photography is simply superb. Thanks a lot Dr. Eugene for your article and photographs.
George Kalappura, Kerala state Sat, March-26-2011, 3:04
I just enjoyed reading and going through. Forwarded to several of my friends. Lot of history, local culture, some thing of the future!a transcendence....
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