Bettiah Christians

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The Bettiah Christians (Hindi: बेतिया मसीही, Urdu: بیتیاہ مسیحی‎, transliteration: Béttiah Masīhī), also known as Betiawi Christians, are the northern Indian subcontinent's oldest Christian community, which emerged in the 18th century.[2][1] Upper-caste Hindus and Muslims who converted to Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries constitute the majority of the Indo-Aryan ethnoreligious community of Bettiah Christians.[2] The origins of the Bettiah Christian community lie in Champaran, in which the king of the Bettiah Raj in India, Maharaja Dhurup Singh, invited Roman Catholic missionaries of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin to establish the Bettiah Christian Mission there.[2]

Bettiah Christians
बेतिया मसीही بیتیاہ مسیحی
Total population
Regions with significant populations
India, Pakistan
Roman Catholic Christianity
Related ethnic groups

Bettiah Christians are known for working in education, serving as teachers and professors.[3] A number of them have served in ecclesiastical positions as bishops, nuns, brothers and priests.[3]


Pope Benedict XIV blessed the Bettiah Christian Mission under the Capuchins in a letter to Maharaja Dhurup Singh dated 1 May 1742.

The Bettiah Raj in India was established by Ugrasen Singh, a Bhumihar ruler who established the state in India in the early 17th century A.D.[2] His son, Gaja Singh, was declared a Raja by the Mughal Indian emperor Shah Jahan.[2]

In 1713, Christian missionaries of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin established a hospice in Patna, India.[2] Maharaja Dhurup Singh, the ruler of the Bettiah Raj, developed a close friendship with Italian Capuchin missionary priest Joseph Mary Bernini, who practiced medicine and faith healing, as well as being fluent in Hindustani and Sanskrit.[2][4] The queen of Maharaja Dhurup Singh, was ill and Joseph Mary Bernini came to their Bettiah Palace to pray for her and treat her; the queen was cured of her "incurable illness" and as a result, Singh invited Bernini to found the Bettiah Christian Mission.[5][2] To secure Bernini's presence at the Bettiah Fort, Maharaja Dhurup Naryan Singh wrote to Pope Benedict XIV asking that priests be sent to Bettiah and on 1 May 1742, Pope Benedict XIV replied stating that the Capuchin priests could remain there and preach the Gospel.[6] Raja Dhurup Singh donated 16 hectares of land, which became known as the Christian Quarters, to the Roman Catholic missionaries of the Capuchin Order.[2]

In 1749, Joseph Mary Bernini was transferred to Chandannagar to minister to European Christians but he became "sickened at heart with the loose morals of the settlers in the colonial [French] settlement" and wished to be transferred to a location "where there were no Europeans."[2] As such, he returned to his "beloved Bettiah" and Raja Dhurup Singh provided Bernini and his fellow priests the wood to erect a church there.[2] At the dedication of the church in 1751 on Christmas Day, copies of a book describing the friendly relations between Hindus and Christians were brought out, with special copies being printed for the king and other distinguished members of his court.[2] During this event at which most of the citizens of Bettiah were present, Raja Dhurup Singh participated and provided musicians who played outside the church compound.[2]

The German missionary, scientist and geographer Joseph Tiefenthaler wrote in his account on Hindustan that within the walled city of Bettiah, also known as the Bettiah Fort, was a Hindu mandir and the convent of the missionaries of the Franciscan Order.[2]

On 15 January 1761, Joseph Mary Bernini, who had stayed at the Bettiah Christian Mission for the remainder of his life, died and his body was said to produce the odour of sanctity.[4] In the same year, the Bettiah Fort, along with the Bettiah Christian Mission, was attacked by Mir Qasim Ali Khan, the Nawab of Bengal.[2]

In 1766, Bettiah was attacked by the British under Sir Robert Barker, who damaged the fort and the Catholic church there.[2] The East India Company generally viewed the Italian Capuchins with suspicion and in the 1760s, harassed and imprisoned them for several months; that being said, some individual Englishmen were fond of the Bettiah Christians and financially supported them, and "extended Government help for the care of orphans."[2] Raja Jugal Kishore Singh, the ruler of the Bettiah Raj in India refused to accept British rule in his state, fought the British with his army though they ended up retreating to Bundelkhand.[2] Following this, the British appointed an estate manager to govern the East India Company.[2] Lacking the local expertise to govern Bettiah, the East India Company invited Raja Jugal Kishore Singh in 1771 to rule the region under the auspices of the East India Company.[2]

The Government of the East India Company honoured Raja Dhurup Singh, in 1786, gave the Bettiah Christian Mission 60 bighas of land within the fort, 200 bighas of land outside the fort, along with the village of Chuhari.[2] At that time, there were three Catholic Christian churches in each of these places, with 2500 Christians residing in Bettiah itself, along with 700 Christians residing in Chuhari and 400 Christians residing in Dossaiya.[2]

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Maharaja of Bettiah sided with the British government and in 1909 through the Court of Wards, the Bettiah Raj came under control of the British Raj in India.[2]

Traditional occupationsEdit

St. Joseph's School in Bettiah is a Catholic school served by the Bettiah Christian community.

At the time of their conversion to Christianity, the Bettiah Christians were largely upper-caste Hindus and Muslims who were scholars, cultivators and farmers, as well as artisans involved in carpentry, goldsmithery, masonry, and blacksmithery.[2] The Brahmins, however, gave up their priestly work.[2]

The majority of Bettiah Christians became involved in the education sector, serving as teachers and professors.[3] As of 1995, there are twenty-seven schools in Bettiah managed by the Bettiah Christian community.[3]


The lehenga was the traditional dress worn by Bettiah Christian women.[2]

The lehenga, a garment worn by women in northwestern India, was the traditional dress worn by Bettiah Christian women.[2] Since the 1950s, Bettiah Christian women are indistinguishable in dress from their neighbours, wearing the saree and shalwar qameez.[2][7]

During weddings, men usually don Western-style suits.[2]


Being principally descendants of Brahmins, they hold a fair social position, ... [though] one-fourth are carpenters, one-tenth blacksmiths, one-tenth servants, the remainder are carters.

William Wilson Hunter (1872)[2]

The majority of Bettiah Christians are upper-caste converts from Hinduism and Islam; they are composed of individuals with the following castes:[2]

In the Christian Quarters of Bettiah, historically, sonars (goldsmiths) resided in Sonar Patt, lohars (blacksmiths) resided in Lohar Patt, Kayasths (accountants) resided in Kayasth Patt, barhais (carpenters) resided in Barhai Patt, etc.[2] In 1790, the Bettiah Christians in a historic caste panchayat voted to abolish "caste jati norms for marriage and dining."[2] Due to their patronage by the Bettiah Rajas and the zamindari position of the Bettiah Christian Mission authorities, the Bettiah Christian converts mixed freely with Hindus and Muslims, "without any discrimination".[2] Due to the "inter-community marriages and participation in shared community activities sch as life-cycle rituals, festivals ,ceremonies, [and] social functions", the Bettiah Christians "oriented to the ideal of a casteless community".[2] Today, the Bettiah Christians stress a "brotherhood in religion" over caste, forming amicable relationships with Christians of other communities, including Dalit Christians.[8]


With regard to marriage, the Bettiah Christians are generally strict as they are a high-caste community.[3]

During weddings, at the conclusion of the Nuptial Mass, the groom applies sindoor to the parting in his bride's hair.[7]

Ecclesiastical lifeEdit

The first Roman Catholic priest from the Bettiah Christian community was ordained in 1861.[3] As of 1995, two bishops of the Catholic Church from the Bettiah Christian community have been ordained.[3]

Interfaith relationsEdit

The tradition of communal harmony between the Bettiah Christians and other religious communities has been maintained since the dedication of the first Catholic Christian church in Bettiah:[2]

After the blessing of the new church at night, the Christian pooja (Mass) was repeated in the morning when more people came to attend the church service, including the nephew of the Raja and his retinue. The attendance of the Raja's court along with the Hindus, seems to be the beginning of a beautiful practice in religious harmony and dialogue still in vogue at Bettiah church. Every year at Christmas and on Good Friday, hundreds of non-Christians, particularly Hindus, largely in family groups, visit the church and offer prayers both inside it and at the shrine of Mother Mary, outside.[2]

Since their inception, the Bettiah Christians have maintained a spirit of communal harmony with Hindus and Muslims.[3] Adherents of other faiths often visit the churches of the Bettiah Christians and pray there, especially at the grotto containing a statue of Mother Mary.[3]

Bettiah Christian diasporaEdit

Educational opportunities fueled the migration of some Bettiah Christians to other urban centres in colonial India, including Patna, Kanpur, Calcutta, Lahore and Delhi.[2] The Cornelius family was among the first Bettiah Christian migrants to the city of Kanpur.[9] Some Bettiah Christians are now settled abroad in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada.[9][7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Kalapura, Jose (April 2020). "Centenary History of Patna Jesuit Mission". Patna Ganga Lahar. Jesuit Conference of South Asia. It is estimated that the Bettiah Christians comprise some 16000 members and are presently dispersed in various urban centres of north India and abroad. The making of the Bettiah Christians, the oldest Christian community in northern India, is a signal achievement of the Capuchins the Jesuits later.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw John, Jose Kalapura (2000). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 61. Indian History Congress. p. 1011-1022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Bihar Christians have fostered faith harmony 250 years". Union of Catholic Asian News. 6 November 1995. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  4. ^ a b Putra, Bharat. "Christianity in Bihar". The Bihar Times. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  5. ^ "Bihar Christians have fostered faith harmony 250 years". Union of Catholic Asian News. 6 November 1995. Retrieved 14 November 2020. Cherubim John, a writer and historian, said the Bettiah community began after Italian Capuchin Father Joseph Mary Bernini cured the local queen of an "incurable" illness. The king donated 16 hectares of land later known as the "Christian Quarters" to the Capuchins. The king allowed Father Bernini, who was on his way to Tibet, to preach, and helped build a church next to his palace.
  6. ^ "Diocese of Bettiah". Union of Catholic Asian News. Retrieved 15 November 2020. One of the Capuchin missioners, Father Joseph Mary, spent some time in Bettiah in 1740 en route to Tibet, and he managed to cure the queen of Bettiah of a serious malady. The King of Bettiah, Dhruva Singh, asked the priest to stay in his kingdom, but the priest said he could not do so unless the Vatican granted permission. Subsequently, Dhruva Singh wrote two letters to Pope Benedict XIV requesting that the missioners be allowed to open a station in Bettiah. The pope replied to him on May 1, 1742, saying the Capuchins could stay and preach the Gospel in the kingdom. Father Joseph Mary thus founded the Bettiah Mission in 1745.
  7. ^ a b c Jha, Abhay Mohan (18 March 2015). "In Bettiah, Christian brides wear sindoor, colourful saris". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  8. ^ Robinson, Rowena; Kujur, Joseph Marianus (2010-07-19). Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. SAGE Publishing India. ISBN 978-93-86042-93-4. An inter-caste, inter-ethnic Christian 'brotherhood in religion' has been emerging as Dalit Christians along with other migrant groups such as Tribal Christian from Chotanagpur, the Bettiah Christians and Christians belonging to other ethnic groups make Urban parish communities.
  9. ^ a b Mascarenhas, Cyprian Eugene (2010). Noronha, Allan de (ed.). St. Patrick's Church Kanpur Sesquicentennial Souvenir. Krishna Graph & Prints. p. 41.