Walking along Beach Road in Pondicherry one can’t help but notice the impressive Our Lady of Angels Church (or Eglise De Notre Dame Des Anges) – standing in the former Capuchins’ square looking out over the Bay of Bengal.
Established by the Capuchins, this is the forth church to have stood on this site. The first church was built in 1707 but was soon at risk of collapse. Between 1739 and 1758 the second church was constructed which was then razed to the ground by the English in 1761. A third church, of which only the square bell-tower and the reallocated nave remain, was then built between 1765 and 1770. In 1828, the Capuchins gave way to the Holy Spirit Fathers, who built the current church between 1851 and 1855.
The construction of the present church was by the engineer Louis Guerre (1800-1865), descended from a family based in Pondicherry since the eighteenth century, he also built many other beautiful residences in the neighbourhood, including the Vice-Consul’s residence and the presbytery.
The church has traditionally housed a priest from France, but since 2008 it has been served by a French-speaking Tamil priest, Fr. Michael John Antonysamy. The name of the church is derived from the St. Mary of the Angels Basilica in Assisi, which contains the ‘Portioncule’, the little chapel that was restored by Saint Francis and where he founded his first community. It is also the only church in Pondicherry where mass is celebrated every Sunday in all the three languages of the city: French, English and Tamil.
From 2009-2012, the church of Our Lady of Angels underwent a major renovation programme led by the Association of Friends of Pondicherry Heritage. My visit in 2016 was not long after, and the church looked amazing, the use of soft pastel colours in the interior has an overwhelming calming effect.
If you’re exploring Pondicherry, it’s well worth a quick detour to visit this church.
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