Monday, July 13, 2015

The Jewel In The Crown

The newly-built St. George Church at Edapally, Kochi, is drawing visitors from far and near

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: By Ratheesh Sundaram

Captions: The parish priest Fr. Sebastian Vazhapally; the inside of the church; a painting, made of cement, of Jesus Christ washing the feet of the disciples 

When Joanna Bishop, 28, from Stockholm steps into the St. George Church at Edapally, Kochi, her blue eyes widen in wonder. There is plenty to be wonderstruck about. The large painting of Jesus Christ, with outstretched arms, behind the altar, is awash in dazzling light rays, which is made of gold leaf. The 34 feet high images, etched in cement, of Jesus Christ being baptised by John The Baptist as well as The Last Supper, on either side of the altar, evokes awe. The floor is made of granite, while the funtiture and the wooden carvings have been done on teakwood.

Around 5000 people can be seated inside the church. “Plus, there is space for another 2000 people on the outside deck,” says parish priest Fr. Sebastian Vazhapally. Through several large vents, air is pumped in, from machines placed in the basement, so that the inside remains cool all the time.

Outside, there are arched windows and buttresses, intricate Corinthian columns, and Kerala-style mandalams. “The style is Portuguese-Kerala,” says Fr. Sebastian. “The committee, overseeing the construction, went to 40 churches to see all types of designs before deciding on this style. The building is shaped in the form of an octagon.”

There is a 19 ft. cross on top of the dome of the church. Interestingly, the number of steps you need to climb to reach the entrance is 33, the age of Jesus Christ when he died. There are two bell towers at a height of 82 feet. The total built-up area is a mind-boggling 88,000 sq. feet. And the cost: a cool Rs 33 crore.

All the money has come from the donations of the faithful,” says Fr. Sebastian. “Like in Sabaramila, there is a deeply-held belief that if you ask a favour from St George, it is usually granted.”

The priest knows of nurses who prayed for jobs in Europe, USA and the Middle East. When the wish comes true, they donate their first salary, of about Rs 2 lakh to the church. But the most unusual aspect is that it attracts people of all faiths.

Recently, Fr. Sebastian saw a black burqa-clad woman, accompanied by a younger woman, and three children enter the church, pray devotedly and then place some money in the donation box. “I was curious enough to approach the elderly lady,” says Fr. Sebastian.

Ameena Thottungal, 65, (name changed) had been coming to the old church for 36 years. And the reason is simple: for ten years following her marriage, she had no children. Then a Christian neighbour told her to go and pray at the St. George Church. She did so. Within months she became pregnant. “I am accompanied by my daughter and grandchildren,” says Ameena. “I am grateful to St. George.”

Incidentally, the church was consecrated on April 19 by Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar church, during a public function attended by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and luminaries like the singer Yesudas. “It is the one of the largest churches in India,” says Fr. Sebastian. “This church has been built for the people of all faiths: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis.”

Meanwhile, Joanna finishes her tour of the church. “There is so much of decorative work,” she says. “It looks beautiful. The churches in Sweden are simpler. But then Christianity is declining in Europe. It is nice to see that the church is thriving in India.” 

(An edited version appeared in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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