Friday, August 31, 2007

A forest church in the heart of Chennai

Luz is a busy area of the Indian metropolis of Chennai. And tucked away from the main road there is a cute little church. It has many names – Kattu Koil (meaning church in the forest, in Tamil), Prakasha Matha Church, Church of Our Lady of Light, Nossa Senhora da Luz, and Luz Church. In fact, the place name, Luz, is inspired by the church.

The legend is that at the beginning of the 16th century, a ship carrying a group of Portuguese Franciscan missionaries was hopelessly lost in the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai coast. Then the crew saw a light towards the west and following it, safely reached the land at a mangrove forest area. It is believed that Apostle St. Thomas used to live in this place for a while before his martyrdom in 72 A.D.

In thanksgiving, the Franciscans built this church in 1516 and dedicated it to ‘Our Lady of Light’ (Nossa Senhora da Luz). Some historians dispute the date but it is the official view of the Madras Mylapore Diocese under which the Luz Church comes. Anyway, it is considered to be the oldest existing Catholic church in Chennai. I saw a mention on the Internet that Marco Polo had visited a church in Chennai. Perhaps there was one built by early Christians of the place at the spot where St. Thomas had died. That church no longer exists.

The original church building at Luz was damaged during attacks by the Golconda forces (1662-1673) and again during Hyder Ali’s siege (1780-1782). It was, of course, restored.

The Luz Church is small but beautiful. The exterior is modest but the interior, particularly the alter, is grand. Some pictures are reproduced below from with permission of the parish priest.

On the left is
Fr. A. John Andrew, Vicar.

The feast of Prakasha Matha coincides with Indian Independence Day – August 15. Thousands participate in the celebrations regardless of caste and creed.


Also see: A historic church is no more.


harimohan said...

having lived the first half of my life in ( now 49 yrs )Chennai and that too in Mylapore and later Kilpauk I never knew of this

Abraham Tharakan said...

This sort of thing happens sometimes- one comes to know of interesting things by accident.

Anup said...

As a person who likes all things old and elegant, this blog was lovely to read. Good photos too. There's history lurking around every corner it seems.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you Anup. History is really fascinating and it is all around us.