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The Great Church of Ollur and the Angel Raphael - A Photo Feature GEORGE MENACHERY

The Great Church of Ollur and the Angel Raphael - A Photo Feature GEORGE MENACHERY



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ART Architecture Paintings Murala Frescoes Sculpture rockwork Woodwork Metalwork Gold Cross Bronze Bells Ollur St. Antony's forane Church St. Raphael"s festival Kerala India
ART Architecture Paintings Murala Frescoes Sculpture rockwork Woodwork Metalwork Gold Cross Bronze Bells Ollur St. Antony's forane Church St. Raphael"s festival Kerala India

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Published by: Thomas Encyclopaedia on Nov 03, 2008
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The Great Church of Ollur and the Angel Raphael - A Photo FeatureProf.George MenacheryOne remarkable feature of the Sistine (from Sixtus) Chapel in the Vatican is thatevery square inch in the 133 ft. by 43 ft. rectangle - the ceiling, the mosaicfloor, the wall behind the altar, the side walls, the marble screen… is decoratedwith the works of the greatest masters of the time including Michelangelo,Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, Resselli, Botticelli, Mino da Fiesole…No wonder Pontiffafter Pontiff chose the Sistine as the most suitable venue for the conclaves toelect the Pope. The breadth-taking grandeur of the Chapel has to be seen to bebelieved.The AuthorThere is one church in Kerala and only one church perhaps which can claim thatevery inch of space in the church is decorated, under both western and indigenousinfluences, with the highest achievements of the painter, the sculptor, theceramics worker, the carpenter, the goldsmith, the bronze artisan, or thearchitect - using every media known or imaginable like gold, silver, iron,bronze, wood, ivory, stone - including laterite, granite, and precious stones,…Here there are large numbers of frescoes, murals - both Kerala and western stylemurals, woodwork, metalwork, ivorywork… Of course, Ollur’s other name Chinna Roma(Little Rome) is quite appropriate for this and many other reasons. Our If anychurch in Kerala deserves to be named a basilica (a minor basilica, that is) it isundoubtedly this great church. If any church is to be made a key attraction fortourists, Indian or international, the first consideration must be given to thischurch.In an article of this sort there is no place for elaborate descriptions and long-winded narratives, nor for many references and notes. Hence this opportunity isused merely to rediscover for those who already know something of this greatchurch, and to introduce the newcomer to, certain aspects of the Ollur Church andthe Shrine of St. Raphael the Archangel especially from the standpoint of itsartistic and architectural excellence.At one time, especially in the 19th century and the first three quarters of the20th century there were only three Christian festivals in the erstwhile CochinState which used to attract countrywide attention. One was the Kanjoor festival ofSt. Sebastian, another was the celebration in honour of the Koratti Muthy Thethird festival of State significance which used to attract tens of thousands ofdevotees was the St. Raphael’s festival of Ollur popularly known as MalakhayudePerunnal.Ollur church is famous for the large number of exquisitely carved sacred images inwood. According to Kuriappan Kattookkaran’s book on the church, written a centuryago, there were seventy-three statues in the church and as many festivals. Eventoday some of the best-carved statues of Kerala are to be found in this church.Today every Sunday in the year is dedicated to the feast or festival of theTrinity, Jesus, or an apostle, or a saint, and even so some festivals have to beobserved on week-days.
One of the reputed possessions of the church is the more than thirty- foot tallwooden rostrum or Pushpakkoodu which have sculptures in the round and relief ofthe evangelists and saints in addition to interesting representations of the floraand fauna of Kerala and elsewhere on it. This is perhaps the tallest rostrum inthe whole of Asia. Among other astonishingly artistic wood carvings in the churchsome are to be found on the three altars, the beams, and in the cupola.As is the case with most churches in Kerala the St. Anthony’s Forane Church ofOllur also is constructed on a hill-top which is the highest location in thevicinity. Earlier people must have reached the church climbing the steep slopes.But today there are large flights of steps leading to the church from variousdirections in addition to the sloping roads for vehicular traffic.Wooden Panel, Ollur Church, ca.1825 The church is surrounded by a huge protective compund wall called Aana Mathil orElephan(ine) wall either because of its elephant like shape (which helps it toguard itself from the heavy monsoon downpours characterestic of the land), orbecause of its elephantine size, or use (to safeguard the church from the fierceattacks of elephants sent by angry kings), or for a combination of these reasons.These walls enclose in addition to th e church itself the inner coutyard also.Festival related and liturgical processions in Malabar are of at least four kinds: certain pradakshinams or processions starting near the altar end at themukhamandapam or portico of the church, many others, importantly, enter thecourtyard and go round the rock cross, others go round the church, still otherswind along the valley-roads surrounding the church-hill, commencing and concludingat the foot of the rock-cross. In the Ollur church we have processions of allthese classes. But the most important procession is in connection withthe festival of St. Raphael the Archangel. (True, the procession of St. Sebastiangoes to many more areas than the Angel’s procession which is restricted to thestreets or angadies demarcated by the four bridges.) The multicoloured Muthukkudas(silk Umbrellas),the many types of Vadyams and Melams, the decorated Roopakkuduscarrying the statues of the four angels are are some of the attractions of thegreat procession. The Vedikkettu or fireworks, the hawkers and vendors, thelargescale agape or Oottu, are other interesting features of the festival. TheThullal which used to attract thousands of faithful is now a thing of the pasthaving been banned by the ecclesiastical authorities some years ago.The gold and silver crosses, the gold candlesticks, gold kasa and pilasa, goldcensers, huge bronze vessels, bells, monstances, tabernacles… are some of theartistic works in the church in various metals. Thr treasure of metal objects inthe church perhaps exceeds any such collection of other churches.The Ollur church is the oldest church in the Thrissur Corporation area and thegrandest church in the Trichur Archdiocese although certain other churches aretoday able to grab the limelight on account of their location and certainaccidental present-day benefits and lucky coincidences.Proceeding towards the church from the Padinjare Angady or western bazaar firstof all one has to climb the smaller flight of steps. After this the flagstaff isreached. Beyond the flagstaff is the great rock cross of Ollur. It is more thantwentyfive feet in height and is one of the best proportioned and well cut outgranite crosses of Kerala. Its monolithic main shaft is thicker than usual. The
open-air rock-cross of Malabar is an obelisk, a tall stone column, with four,sometimes decorated, slightly stapering sides. Rome has many obelisks (from Egyptand the East) which have been sometimes made into cross-bearing structuresdecorating the piazzas and squares); London has one on the banks of the Thames(Cleopatras Needle); Paris has one at the place d la concorde; and even New Yorkhas one in the central park. Many memorials like the Washington Memorial areobelisk-shaped. The Asoka Pillar and other such Indian pillars must have beeninspired by the Graeco-Parthians, under Egyptian-Persian influence. The Nazraneysthamba is a direct descendant of the obelisk.,and much closer to it than theother Indian pillars - in shape, method of constuction and transportaion, methodof erection, function, and solar symbolism. The Roman obelisk, bearing crossestoday, have been converted to Christianity, while Keralas cross-shaped obeliskswere born Christian.The obelus and the double-dagger reference marks in printingmay be profitably recalled here.The three-tier gabled indigenous architecture of Kerala churches, which lackedfacades until the coming of the Portuguese, immensely gains in richness, symmetry,and beauty because of the open-air rock crosses, some of them more than 30 feet inheight including the intricately carved pedestals, and monolithic shafts. No othercommunity in Kerala has such a huge monumental stone structure, and no otherChristianity has such a universal and huge emblem in front of the churches. Theindoor counterparts of these crosses have the earliest carvings in Kerala of thenational flower lotus and the national bird peacock. Perhaps even the nationalanimal tiger is first depicted in Kerala art in church sculpture. There was norock carving in South India prior to the period of these indoor crosses. Themotifs, message , and images on these crosses and their pedestals display aremarkable degree of Indianness and Malayalee Thanima or identity.A unique feature of the church is the number and variety of the angel images inthe church. There are more than five thousand images of angels in the church – infresco, mural, wood, plaster, stone, metal, ivory and many other media. Thepaintings in the church which cover an area of thousands of square feet are thepride of Kerala’s artists and Kerala’s Christianity. Rock Out - door Cross of Ollur Old St. Raphael's Church- now cemeteryThe seven storey belfry of the church was it is said the tallest structure inSouth India at the time it was constructed.It must be a matter of pride for the students and staff of the Holy Angel’s Schoolthat their institution has its name from the great miracle-working angel of theOllur Church - the parish church of fully three thousand five hundred familiestoday even after giving birth to many daughter parishes - who is considered thepatron saint of the about-to-be-marrieds and the newly-marrieds, of couples ingeneral, of travelers and wayfarers, of the blind and the sick, of those who havelost wealth or objects, and of course of the devil-afflicted.[There are a number of books, souvenirs, journals which give additionalinformation on the St. Anthony’s Forane Church, Ollur and St. Raphael theArchangel – which can be consulted in the office of the Manager of the HolyAngel’s EMBHS. The author is the chief editor of the St. Thomas ChristianEncyclopaedia of India, The Thomapedia, The Indian Church History Classics - TheNazranies etc. and Chairman of the Silver Jubilee Souvenir Committee]

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