Monday, May 25, 2020

Arts and Architecture


Tradition has it that Apostle St.Thomas who is said to have landed at Muziris in AD 52, built seven churches in Kerala. The first wave of Christianity to Kerala must have come from West Asia. Inscriptions for instance of the times of Sthanu Ravi (844-85) and Vira Raghava Chakravarti (AD1225) clearly reveal the Christian communities enjoyed many rights and privileges.

It is widely known that early churches in the Roman world, including West Asia, initiated the plan of Civil Basilica having a semi circular termination, and with certain modifications for better fulfillment of liturgical needs. On the other hand, Kerala adopted a temple plan comprising a four-sided sanctuary fronted by a larger pillared hall, which in the Christian tradition became chancel and nave respectively. Similarly the tower over the sanctuary possibly soared higher than of the nave as in the Hindu temple, the Sikhara above the garbha-griha has the maximum height. This type of church-architecture can still be seen in Kerala.

In the Orthodox Syrian Church at Chengannur, Peter and Paul occupy the places of the dwarapalas of the Hindu shrine. A portico, called sala in front is often provided to shelter pilgrims during festive occasion. The absence of benches or pews reflects a sense of adjustment to the prevailing Indian custom of squatting or kneeling on the floor. Again, many Syrian churches have an impressive gate way with a musical hall above, which may be an adoption from the Brahmanical practices in temples. The open air cross in front of the main entrance recalls the tradition of placing balipitha or dipa-stamba, near the entrance of the Hindu shrine. Church architecture in Kerala evolved out of an indigenous building tradition  and basically the same trend continued till recently despite the impact of later ecclesiastical architecture of Europe.

It was Portuguese who introduced the new trend of Church-architecture in the sixteenth century; followed by the latinization of churches in Kerala. Santo Antonio, now St. Francis at Cochin is the earliest church built in India in the new tradition. It has been raised on a plan similar to the earlier types prevalent in Kerala though in elevation it has discarded the idea of dominating tower over the chancel. Being a modest unpretentious structure, it has no particular architectural merit, but it stands as a land mark of history and church architecture of India. Numerous churches has been built on the Indian soil keeping the St. Francis church as the model.

The exact date of the construction of the St. Francis church is not known. Presumably it owes its origin to the Franciscan Friars who accompanied the Portuguese expedition under Pedro Alvarez Gabral. Originally it is said to have been built of wood but later rebuilt in stone perhaps within the first few years of the sixteenth century.  It is a lofty edifice with a gabled timber-framed roof covered with tiles. Facing the west, it has a semi-circular arched entrance and windows  above. The facade is impressive, flanked on either side by a stepped pinnacle. There is a bell-turret on the summit of the gable-front, divided into three compartments. Inside the chancel is divided from the nave by a plain arched opening and the top of the chancel roof is crowned by two stepped pinnacles. It exhibits an architecture of arch.

This is the church where Vasco-da Gama was buried in 1524, though his body was removed in 1538 to Portugal. In 1663 it is passed on to the hands of the Dutch, who were protestants, it was restored by the Dutch in 1779. After the occupation of Cochin by the British in 1795, it gradually became an Anglican Church. At present it has been taken over by the Church of South India.

Some of the heraldic designs an armorial bearings on the tomb-stones, affixed on the walls of this church are examples of fine workmanship. The earliest Portuguese epitaph here dates back to1562, while that of Dutch to 1664.

Interior of many Churches of Kerala shows fine wood-works and also paintings devoted mainly to the life story of Jesus Christ. The murals depicting the fight between the English and Tipu Sultan are seen in a Church at Kanjhur.