Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A historic church is no more.

Photo: Patrik

Photo: ayanathouse.com

In 1791 the Parayil Tharakans built a church at Thycattussarry, the village of which Olavipe is a part, to house the statue of the family’s patron saint, St. Antony, which had been brought with them when they came to the place perhaps a century earlier.

The Parayils rebuilt the church twice to accommodate the growth in membership. The photographs reproduced below are of the third structure, constructed around 1881. This building, which had been a silent witness to several crucial events in the Malabar (Kerala) Church history, is now a memory. It was demolished a couple years back and a new church is almost complete at the same site. The number of parishioners today is perhaps lower than that of the original church!

This has been happening to several old churches in Kerala. Wonder whether the seminaries that churn out priests impart a sense of local history to the aspirants.

At least we have the photographs! And the story - 'Once upon a time there was a church...'



Hormis Tharakan said...

I visited the St. Antony's Church at Thycattusserry recently. One must say that the facade as seen from the ferry as one crosses the kayal is pleasing - it looks more or less the same as before restoration(if that is the right word). However what shocked me was what has been done to the two side-chapels. There was a fresco on the ceiling of the righthand side altar, which depicted God the Father, a rare depiction,Sistine Chapel being one of the few other places where such a depiction exists.That has been completely wiped out. The Parish Priest's explanation is that the fresco had been damaged beyond repair. I am not an expert, but I have had occasion to see how Giotto's frescoes at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assissi were restored after having been devastated by an earthquake and how those at the Hanging Church of the Copts in old Cairo are being restored after centuries of neglect.

The monstrous statues now erected in the side-altars are evidently built on the principle that big is beautiful. The priest made some remark in passing which pointed to a possible attempt to tamper with the classic
main altar, which got me very worried indeed.

The pity is that all this was done by a well-meaning Parish Priest. This experience, added to the current effort to demolish the Ramapuram Church make it imperative that we put pressure on the Church authorities in Kerala to implement the instructions of Pope Benedict XVI in his recent post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation,"SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS", where he says,"A solid knowledge of the history of sacred art can be advantageousfor those responsible for commissioning artists and architects to create works of art for the liturgy. Consequently,it is essential that the education of Seminarians and priests include the study of art history, with special reference to sacred buildings..."

Articles by Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you for the well-studied, well-written and pertinent comment. I understand that there is sufficient legal protection available against demolition/destruction of old monuments. There is also something called the Record of Rights (written or otherwise).

The problem is that the Church authorities refuse to recognize that when the law of the land and the law of the Church are in conflict, the former prevails.

There is no point in hoping that the Pope's wisdom would permeate to the priests in Kerala. Court action is the only course left.

Abraham Tharakan.