The history of the eparchy of Sagar starts from the Apostle St. Thomas. Bishop AD. Mattom quotes from an article in the Examiner of Bombay, Dec. 4. 1915. It reads: “In East Malwa-Bundelkand — on the boarders of Narmada, near Sagar, at Udaipur the first disciples of St. Thomas (Nadathagam Buddha) or the Apostle himself, built, according to tradition a temple to the Most High God, under the invocation of Bhagavadi Mary Reparatirix. There were numerous pagodas in India with the name of Bhagavadi or Mariamma Covil — Church of Our Lady of reparation”
The message sent by the Congregation for Oriental Churches on the occasion of the 25th year of the Exarchate of Sagar reads as follows: “ Your Eparchv created in the wake of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, is situated at the very heart of India. Significantly, also, it lies in a region that formed part of the ancient Malwa Kingdom and a region where, according to archaeological evidence, there existed in former centuries a community’ of St. Thomas Christians. The renewed presence of this Apostolic Church in Madhya Pradesh links with the past and looks forward to the future”.
Now in the above said place — Udaipur a Hindu temple of tourist importance exists. From the inscriptions in the language called Pali it is certified by Textor de Ravisi and Burthey S.J that it was a Marian Shrine belonging to the St. Thomas Christians. According to the inscriptions there were 4339 parishioners who received Holy Communion and 4160 who didn’t receive Holy Communion. And to distribute communion twenty priests from the neighboring parishes were called. The Marian Shrine was in ruins for a period of nine centuries and in the year 1060 A. D at the time of King Sangai Vardaha it was rebuilt.
There are in India number of Sagar’s. Probably it is because of this reason official documents give it as “Saugor” to identify it from others. However both Sagar and “Saugor” are used nowadays indiscriminately for this town in Madhya Pradesh.
In a neighboring place called Sironj within the diocese of Sagar there are Christian tombs in the Muslim cemetery. These tombs have Armenian crosses on them. Sironj was a centre of business and trade in the middle ages. Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) favoured Armenian Christian merchants and traders and likely due to his invitation and protection many of them made their way to India. Malwa was part of Akbar’s great empire. In these circumstances it was only natural that Armenians came to Vidisha and nearby places and settled down there.
The first known missionary of Sagar after the middle ages and the Muslim period was Rev. Fr. Raphael Mecchi of Livomo of the Capuchin Order of the province Tuscany in Italy. He came to India at the age of 22, was appointed to serve in Gorakhpur of Patna diocese and later in 1872 in the unit as a Military chaplain at Sagar. He built the present St. Raphael Church in 1890 and dedicated it after his patron St. Raphael, the Archangel. It is today St. Raphael Cathedral Church.
The church then was used for the military personnel. There was not a single local Christian at that time in Sagar. He desired very much to have local Christians. He realized this dream by picking up a dying orphan boy on the road side and starting an orphanage in a place where the government leased him 277 acres of land and he called the place “Sion-pura”. The place was known as Shampura in later years. It is 5 k.m. away from Saugor city. Saugor became famous due to the establishment of the 20th University of India and for the military cantonment. In 1894 Rev. Fr. Raphael Mecchi of Livorno died at the age of 76, and was buried in the Christian Cemetery of Sagar from where his remains were later taken and interned in the Orphanage Church.
The diocese of Sagar was erected as an Apostolic Exarchate by the bull ‘Quo Aptius’ dated July 29, 1968, cutting out from the Archdiocese of Bhopal the civil districts of Sagar, Raisen and Vidisha. Again at the request of the Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur, the district of Guna was added to the Exarchate of Sagar by the decree of ‘De Bono Animarum’ on 2nd April, 1973. The civil district of Guna was further bifurcated on August 15, 2003 to form the district of Ashoknagar. At present, diocese of Sagar consists of five civil districts in Madhya Pradesh, namely Sagar, Raisen, Vidisha, Guna and Ashoknagar. The Holy See by its decree ‘Divina Verba’ on 26th February 1977 raised the Apostolic Exacrchate to the Status of a proper diocese. The diocese covers an area about 40,000 sq. kms. Bp. Clemens Thottungal CMI was the first bishop of the diocese. Bp. Joseph Pastor Neelankavil CMI succeeded him as second bishop of the diocese. After his retirement in the year 2006, Bishop Anthony Chirayath is the Bishop of the diocese.
The area is rather under developed due to various social, economic and cultural reasons. 85% of the people are farmers or farm-workers. The labour is not well organised, and consequently a lot of exploitation prevails. 80% of the people are Hindus belonging to various castes and the rest are Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Adivasis and a very small minority of Christians. Out of the total population of 6 million peoples, the Christians are only 12,000 of which 7,225 are Catholics.
The various Socio-Pastoral, Medical and Educational apostolates of the Church are being carried out in the diocese under the Sagar Diocesan Service Society, which is a registered society under the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
The diocese has 15 parishes and about 55 mission centres. Through various pastoral activities, the missionaries take care of the spiritual needs of the Catholics and other Gospel proclaiming programmes. There are many developmental programmes by which the poor farmers and poverty stricken people are helped. Missionaries in Sagar have always tried to venture in to new areas of apostolate according to the need.