Why was a church built in the name of Mughal emperor Akbar, read this interesting story

Ananya Shroff
4 Min Read

Author: Atanu Singh

18 February 1580, this was the date when three Jesuit priests arrived in Agra to meet Emperor Akbar. Seeing Emperor Akbar's curiosity to learn about other religions, these three Portuguese priests had traveled a long distance from Goa to Agra. Seeing Akbar's generosity, the three priests thought that perhaps the emperor would change his religion.

Akbar Church
Akbar welcomed these priests respectfully, but did not agree to conversion. Instead, he proposed that why not hold a debate between Jesuit priests and local religious scholars. It can be said that it was because of such events that Christianity and culture spread in Agra. Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire at that time and traders and others from countries like France, Portugal, England, Italy often visited there. Under their influence, some local people started adopting Christianity. Then the need for a church was felt, so Akbar donated land near an Armenian settlement for it. Thus 'Akbar Church' was established in 1598. This church is a great example of friendship between two Abrahamic religions.

Plays on Jesus
According to historian RV Smith, Emperor Akbar himself used to come to this church on Christmas morning with nine gems of his court. In the evening, women and princesses of the harem used to come. This was the period when plays of the birth of Jesus Christ started being staged in India, in which Europeans played the role. Emperor Akbar used to enjoy these plays as a spectator. After Akbar, this tradition continued during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. And, with time, the organization of the play became more grand. For this, vigorous rehearsals were done in the Phulatti area. The Mughal royal family got deeply involved in all this and it also had a great impact on them. The matter reached such a point that in the year 1610, three nephews of Jahangir were baptized in this church.

Invasion of Abdali
During Shah Jahan's reign, the picture of brotherhood and friendship between the Islamic Mughal court and Western Christians started to fade. Jesuit priests had to bear the brunt of Emperor Shah Jahan's conflict with the Portuguese. They were imprisoned. Later, they were released in 1635. The church was demolished the same year. It was rebuilt at the same place in 1636 with some changes. When the Mughal Sultanate was on the verge of its decline, Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked India. His soldiers destroyed Akbar's church. A European adventurer Walter Reinhart rediscovered this church. He played a major role in its reconstruction and expansion. Many say that Walter Sahib's wife Begum Samru was baptized in this church.

Grave in the church yard
When more space was needed for prayer meetings, a larger church was built next to it in 1848, which is now a cathedral. Around the same time, a few Protestant churches began to be built in Agra. The most important of these is St. John's Church at Sikandara. It is also known as the 'Mission Church'. During the colonial period, the campus of this church was quite extensive. The tomb of Akbar's Begum Mariam-uz-Zamani was in this complex.

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