Meerut: Seven bishops , including the archbishop of Pondicherry Francis Kalist , along with hundreds of Catholics from several states such as UP , Uttarakhand , and Rajasthan congregated at the iconic Sardhana church built by India’s only Catholic ruler Begum Samru on the occasion of 200 years of its inception .
Those gathered on Tuesday in Meerut also observed an elaborate remembrance ceremony for the Be gum , also known as Joanna Nobilis Sombre . She was a converted Catholic Christian who started her career as anautch ( dancing ) girl in 18th century India and eventually became the ruler of Sardhana for over half a century . Regarded as the only Catholic ruler in India , she erected the church in 1822 .
” It was a historical moment that witnessed a prayer mass , felicitation of golden and silver jubilees for a few priests ‘ ordinations , and a feast and consecration of a flag post within the premises of the basilica of ‘ Our Lady of Graces ‘ , commonly known as the Sardhana church , ” said father Sasin Babu , a Parish priest of the church .
” Begum Samru was an inseparable part of this basilica and the bicentenary was a great occasion to commemorate her great service to humanity . We meditated upon her life and also remembered her humble beginnings . She rose to a high status and dedicated herself to the upliftment of the region , ” said administrator of the event and Meerut diocese father Valerian Pinto .
The St. Mary’s church was raised to the dignity of a minor basilica of ‘ Our Lady of Graces ‘ in December 1961 by Pope John XXIII .
In 1764 , an Austrian mercenary Walter Reinhardt Sombre , fell inlove with the Begum , back then known as Farzana . She was a 14 year – old nautch ( dance ) girl in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk . Sombre took her under his protection . She as sisted him in military campaigns and battle strategies .
A quick learner , she got herself accustomed to the art of commandeering troupes . After Reinhardt’s death in 1778 , she inherited his for tune , including the principality of Sardhana awarded to him by Mugh al Emperor Shah Alam II .
As Sardhana’s ruler , she converted to Christianity and christened herself as Joanna Nobilis Sombre or Begum Samru . However , her reign was a challenging one . It required strong political and military acumen against the backdrop of a crumbling Mughal empire , incessant attacks on the imperial throne of Delhi , and the continuous power struggle between the Rohillas , Marathas , and the British . Begum successfully maintained that delicate balance and ruled for more than half a century in those uncertain times . She died on January 27 , 1836 , in her early 80s .