Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Wednesday 04 August |
Saint of the Day: St. John Vianney
home iconTravel
line break icon

The 17th-century church built by Jesuits in Agra, India


Peter Potrowl | CC BY SA 3.0

V. M. Traverso - published on 07/13/18

The church was at one time the heart of a thriving Armenian Christian community.

Think of Agra and the picture of the majestic Taj Mahal, built in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, comes to mind. But right during the golden years of Mughal architecture, Agra was also home to the first Catholic church in Northern India.

In the late 1500s, Emperor Akbar invited Jesuits priests to travel to Agra from Goa, where they were based, so he might learn more about Christianity. After understanding the basic precepts of the religion, the emperor gave the Jesuits land to build a Catholic church not too far from his palace.

Akbar’s church was built in 1598 and shortly became the core of a thriving Armenian Christian community, composed of bankers, merchants and jewelers living in Agra.

It is said that during the early days of the church a few Mughal emperors, especially Jahangir, came to pray here often. In 1610 three princesses, nephews of the Emperor Jahangir, were baptized here by Jesuits fathers.

Launch slideshow below:

In 1632 Emperor Shah Jahan defeated the Portuguese colonists, arrested 4,000 prisoners and persecuted Jesuit Fathers. By 1635, he released the Jesuits on the condition that they would take down their church, which they did. But a year later, the moody ruler allowed the church to be reconstructed with the same material that was used in the original building. It was in this rebuilt church that the first official Mass was celebrated on September 8, 1636. But peaceful times did not last for long.

When Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Agra in 1758, the church was sacked by Afghan soldiers. But thanks to the patronage of European mercenary Walter Reinhardt Sombre, it was fully rebuilt by 1781, hosting the baptism of Sombre’s wife.

Over the next two hundred years it became a hotspot for Catholic life in this part of India, with local Bishop Borghi receiving a visit from the French order of Jesus and Mary—a Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the education and service of the poor—in 1842.

Today, Akbar’s church no longer plays a pivotal role for the local Catholic community due to the presence of the much larger Church of Immaculate Conception, Agra’s main cathedral, but it still stands as a testament to the centennial history of Catholicism in Northern India.

Catholic historyIndia
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Saint Mary of the Angels
Bret Thoman, OFS
All your sins will be forgiven if you go to a Franciscan church o...
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Philip Kosloski
Most priests can’t absolve these sins
Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz
1st Feast of Our Lady of Silence is August 1
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.