Christianity in Bangladesh

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One of the oldest churches in Bangladesh, dating back to 1663
The Portuguese Church in Old Chittagong; the seat of the Bishop of Chittagong
Dhaka's Armenian Church; built in 1781

Christianity's first contact with the Indian subcontinent is attributed to Thomas the Apostle, who is said have preached in Kerela in the early common era. The earliest recorded Christians in the territory of modern-day Bangladesh arrived during the Bengal Sultanate. Portuguese missionaries and traders in Porto Grande, Chittagong built the region's first churches during the 16th-century. The Jesuits opened their first mission in 1600. Mughal and colonial Dhaka was home to Armenians, Greeks, Catholics and Anglicans.

Today, 0.37% of the Bangladeshi population are Christian, most being Roman Catholics and numbering about 550,000. The Ministry of Religious Affairs supports and assists Christian institutions in the country. Missionary schools and hospitals are well-attended and used by members of all religions. The Christian community usually enjoys a better opportunity for education and standard of living. Christmas is also a national holiday.


Early history[edit]

Renowned Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa in 1498 and landed at Calicut (present Kozhikode of India) by discovering the sea-route to India. From 1500 onwards, the Portuguese established their power first in Cranganore, then to Cochin and Goa. With these traders and commercial opportunists, also came Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian, and Jesuit missionaries to bring Indians to Christianity. From 1517 onwards, Portuguese traders from Goa were traversing the sea-route to Bengal but were not successful in establishing trading posts in this part of India. Only in 1537 were they allowed to settle and open customs houses at Satgaon (near Hooghly) in West Bengal and Chittagong. In 1577, Mughal emperor Akbar permitted the Portuguese to build permanent settlements and churches in Bengal. After the Portuguese intermarried with local women or converted native Bengali people, their descendants became the first generation of indigenous Christians in Bangladesh. Additional locals converted to Christianity from Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.


In the 16th century, Portuguese traders brought Christianity to Bangladesh through the port of Chittagong, called the Porto Grande or the Great Port. The first church in Bangladesh was built in 1599 at Chandecan (also called Iswaripur or old Jessore) near Kaliganj in the Sundarbans of present Satkhira district.

  • 1599: Father Francisco Fernandez went to Chandecan in October, and with permission of Maharaja Pratapaditya built a church and a rectory there. This new church, called the "Holy Name of Jesus", was officially dedicated on January 1, 1600, when the King himself was present at the ceremony[citation needed].
  • 1601: At the invitation of Portuguese merchants, Dominican Fathers Gaspar da Assumpsao and Melchior da Luz went to Diang (Dianga), south-east of Chittagong on the Karnaphuli River, and built the third church (chapel) there. When the Arakanese attacked, the chapel was burnt down and missionaries were manhandled, after which the Dominicans left[citation needed].
  • 1602: Francisco Fernandez tried to save some Portuguese children from the Arakanese who had made them slaves. The Arakanese were so enraged that they captured Fernandez, beat him and placed him in chains in a dark prison. He died there on November 14, 1602 becoming the first Christian martyr in the territory comprising present Bangladesh.
  • 1608: Islam Khan, the Mughal Subedar of Bengal, made Dhaka—previously a mere military outpost—the capital of Bengal. This was followed by progress and prosperity in business attracting Portuguese, Dutch, French and English merchants.
  • 1612: Portuguese Augustinian missionaries introduced Christianity in Dhaka.
  • 1628: The same missionaries established a church, called the "Church of the Assumption", in the Narinda area of the city.
  • 1695: The church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino was constructed at Nagori, 25 kilometres north-east of Dhaka.
  • 1764: Portuguese missionaries built a church at Padrishibpur in Barisal district. Another Portuguese church was built at Hashnabad, 30 kilometres south-west of Dhaka, in 1777.

Roman Catholics[edit]

In 1682, there were 14,120 Roman Catholics in Bangladesh. As the Bangladeshi Muslims have Arabic and Persian surnames, so do the Portuguese-converted Catholics or Catholics of Portuguese blood have Portuguese surnames, such as Gomes, Rozario, D'Costa, Purification, Gonsalvez, Cruze, Daes, D’Silva, D’Souza etc.[citation needed]. To recognize Catholics by names, the missionaries used to give one Christian name and one of their surnames to the newly baptized person. Later Catholic missionaries from Great Britain, Ireland, France, USA, Canada, and Italy did not follow the Portuguese in naming the new Christians. They gave one Christian name but did not change the surname of the newly converted. Presently, the Catholic Church has seven diocesesDhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Khulna, Mymensingh, Sylhet and Rajshahi—with a Catholic population of about 221,000, more than 70 parish churches, 200 priests, 50 brothers, 700 nuns, 1,000 catechists, and many educational, healthcare, and welfare institutions and organizations[citation needed].

Founded in 1949, Notre Dame College (Dhaka) has earned the reputation for being the best institution for higher secondary education in the country with the highest number of perfect GPA holders in national examination (H.S.C.).


William Carey was a Protestant missionary who arrived at Serampore in West Bengal in 1793. This Englishman heralded the new missionary era in Bengal. Many Protestant organizations have since established themselves in the country:

After the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, there was a new influx of Protestant missionary societies into Bangladesh. Besides evangelism, these societies have also established and run various educational, healthcare, and welfare institutions. At present, the number of Protestants in Bangladesh is estimated to be around 150,000[citation needed]. Church of the Nazarene International, Bangladesh has 3 districts and Rev. Sukumal Biswas is the National Director. It is second largest Church after Roman Catholic Church in Bangladesh.


Christians contributed immensely in the field of Bengali literature. Portuguese missionary Fr. Manuel da Assumpsao wrote Kripar Shastrer Orthobhed, which was printed in 1743 in Lisbon, Portugal, in the Latin script. It was a catechism in the question-answer form. He also wrote a 40-page Bengali grammar book and a 529-page Bengali-Portuguese and Portuguese-Bengali dictionary, called Vocabulario em Idioma Bengulla-e-Portuguez, divided em duas Partes. Dom Antonio da Rozario, a local Hindu jomidar (squire) converted by the Portuguese, was successful in making mass conversions (20,000 to 30,000) among low-caste Hindus in the region north of Dhaka. He wrote Brahman-Roman Catholic Sambad, where a Roman Catholic dialogues with a Hindu Brahmin and attempts to show the superiority of Christianity over Hinduism.

William Carey translated and printed the Bible in Bengali, as well as writing many other books and a dictionary, called A Dictionary of the Bengali Language. He also helped develop Bengali type faces for printing and established Serampore Mission and College in addition to publishing newspapers and periodicals. His colleagues Dr. John Thomas, William Ward, Felix Carey (his son), John Pearson, and others also left their contributions in Bengali literature. Carey also developed the Bengal school system[citation needed]. Recently, two Catholic Italian Xaverian missionaries— Fathers Marino Rigon and Silvano Garello— have been translating many works of 1913 Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jasimuddin and others into Italian. Their books have created an increasing interest of the Italians for Bengali literature and Bangladesh[citation needed].

Having worked in Bangladesh as a missionary since 1952, Father Richard William Timm, C.S.C. won the Ramon Magsaysay Award Peace and International Understanding, the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1987 in recognition of his work as biologist, combating parasitic worms, and relief efforts with Caritas (charity).[1]

The Churches in Bangladesh have worked in the fields of merciful activities such as education and medicare for all mainly the poor, underprivileged, and helpless. In a country where over 90% of the population is Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, running such educational and welfare institutions and organizations under a Christian banner remains difficult[citation needed].

After the Bangladesh Liberation War, the missionaries sent by Mother Teresa were the first organizations to enter Bangladesh after 1971 to help the victims. Many of these missionaries have established offices in Bangladesh and still operate independently. These missionaries along with many other contribute actively during flood and various cyclones in the coastal region.

Prominent Bangladeshi Christians[edit]

Though small in number, Bangladeshi Christians have made a significant contribution to Bangladesh since independence in 1971.

  • Tapan Chowdhury is the First Christian who served the Nation as the Advisor of the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh. His father was the founder of the Square Group, Samson Hossain Chowdhury. Mr Tapan was the President of the National Council of YMCA.

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

Further reading[edit]

  • Luchesi, Brigitte (1999), "Bangladesh", in Fahlbusch, Erwin, Encyclopedia of Christianity 1, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, pp. 182–183, ISBN 0802824137