On the quiet Nathalal Parekh Marg (formerly Wodehouse Road), parallel to the arterial Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, you will come across a cluster of grey stone structures, imposing to the eye and yet blending with the landscape, redolent of a more gracious time when height, space and grandeur were imperatives in the creation of a building and more particularly of a house of prayer. These structures are the Cathedral of the Holy Name flanked by the Fort Convent, Cathedral House, and Archbishop’s House.
Completed in 1905, the glory of the 107-year old Cathedral is still mostly intact. The general style is Gothic and approximates to what is known as ‘Early Decorated’ in English Architecture. Perhaps the finest external feature of the structure is the flying buttresses and pinnacles which are impressive for strength and lightness combined. Internally, the solid groined vaulting, built of arched work supported by stone ribs, is unique among the Churches of the Archdiocese. The front boasts of two towers containing the belfries surmounted by octagonal spires which, like the main roof are covered with Mangalore tiles, and terminate in final-crosses of ornamental design. The summit of these crosses rises to 130 feet above street level. As can be imagined, they were a landmark in their time. And yes, the bells (E, F#, G#, B) still ‘calleth to pray’: the Angelus at Noon, the announcement of the death and appointment of prelates, and the joyful preface to the celebrations that the Cathedral hosts.
Steps lead up to the massive carved wooden main door which opens to reveal the wonder within. Visitors speak of the experience of reverence and awe. Attention is immediately drawn to the carved marble main altar where the central niche frames the life size statue of Jesus, whose ‘name is above all other names’. High above, in the background, the sunlight filters through the jeweled tints of the stained glass windows which depict, radiantly, the Annuncation, the emblem of the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Nativity. During World War II, these windows were carefully removed and stored in a safe place. Despite their fragility, they remain a testament to man’s talent and continue to inspire with their striking loveliness.
Every inch of the Cathedral provides a feast for the eyes. The ceiling and walls are covered with frescoes and geometrical designs painted by the Jesuit lay-brother A. Moscheni of Bergamo, aided by two assistants. When one looks at the exquisite detail, the complexity and intricacy of the artwork and the uniformity of the geometrical designs (which many have mistaken for wallpaper!) one has to marvel that this was all completed in just over a year. The work is ‘true fresco’ meaning that it is not colour applied to a dry surface but applied to the plaster while it is still wet, thus permeating and impregnating its substance, so that it can never fade. The pigments used are mineral throughout and the colouring required great skill and accuracy in the execution as the finished art becomes several shades lighter when dry. The effect of gold and bronze has been obtained by using shades of ochre distemper – not a particle of gold has been used in the paintings.
Mention must be made of Brother Haegele, a Jesuit of German extraction, who was the architectural designer and who was responsible for the carved embellishments in marble and wood that adorn the altars, the altar rails, the pulpit and the wooden frontage of the choir loft.
The choir loft is reached by a spiral stairway situated in the tower below the belfry and houses the massive pipe organ which is still in use today, albeit occasionally as compared to daily in the years gone by. The acoustics, enhanced by the vaulted ceilings and internal appointments, are truly exceptional.
Required modifications and additions have been made over the years: a new main altar in keeping with the liturgical requirements, a Blessed Sacrament chapel (converted from one of the Sacristies) and a Grotto. Though these have been installed one hundred years later, care has been taken to ensure conformity with the existing interior and exterior.
There are several gravestones embedded in the walls and floor of the Cathedral and the inscriptions will prove interesting to the historian, amateur and professional alike. Archbishop Dalhoff and Cardinal Valerian Gracias are both interred here in their beloved shrine.
Every aspect of the architecture is marvelous and speaks volumes of the Cathedral’s divine purpose and mission. But while this structure has withstood the vicissitudes of time for the better part of one hundred years, successive and heavy monsoons have taken their toll on the roof and walls and the murals which decorate them. Restoration work was undertaken in 2004 and further repairs are in hand at present.
The parish strength once stood at 15,000 (circa the 1960s) but numbers have since declined. Families have moved out to the suburbs or have migrated. The original boundaries have also shrunk to the extent that the Parish of St. John the Evangelist was carved out of the northern area of the Holy Name Parish. The area surrounding the Cathedral is now more commercial than residential which changes the complexion of the location considerably.
The Parish boundaries presently extend from Churchgate in the North to the Colaba Post office at the southern end. The western limit is bounded by the Arabian Sea, while the eastern boundary lies near the General Post Office, Fort.
Cathedral of the Holy Name,
No. 19, Nathalal Parekh Road, Colaba, Mumbai – 400001
Land Mark: Near YMCA Building
Mondays to Fridays: 9.30 am to 1 pm and 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm
(Please note that the office is closed between 1 pm and 4 pm)
Saturdays : 9.30 am to 1.00 pm
Sundays and Public Holidays: Closed
Contact: 22020121 or 22045349