Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mixed church

In 1749, under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the French handed Fort St George back to the British. Never again, thought the British, and made arrangements for garrisoning additional troops within the Fort, apart from clearing the settlements to its north and west.  Not stopping with these, they also tore down a Capuchin chapel within the Fort, believing that Pe Severini had conspired to help the French capture the Fort three years earlier. 

The chapel moved to a piece of land in Vepery that belonged to Coja Petrus Uscan. Uscan had a private chapel there and he turned that over to the Capuchins. However, after his death, the British ensured that the chapel and its grounds were handed over to the SPCK - the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. And the premises were used to house some of the British troops. The soldiers used the woodwork of the chapel to light their kitchen fires and, by 1821, the chapel was deemed to be beyond repair. It was then that the plans for a new church were finalized, under the guidance of John Goldingham and conditional financial support from the SPCK: the condition was that the new church would worship only according to the Rites of the Church of England. 

The foundation of the St Matthias Church was laid on December 8, 1823 and when the building was completed, it was opened to the public on June 18, 1826. It is said that atop each pinnacle on the eastern side was placed a chembu (copper vessel), with mango leaves and a coconut on top. Also, the main entrance to the church with its arch and doors is Mohammedan in design, and is flanked with elements representing plantain and mango leaves, which are considered auspicious. Maybe the builders were deliberately mixing the three major religious styles to ensure that the church did not inherit the fate of the chapel it grew from!

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