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Parur Church and the Shape of Old Kerala Churches

These comments by Prof. George Menachery are vis-a-vis rhe following article by Khristós Agápē:

“There are few, if any, Syrian churches in Kerala that preserve the architecture that existed prior to the 16th century. One church that was still in existence during the early 1800s was the ancient church in Parur. Here is an account from “Lingerings of Light in a Dark Land”, by the Rev Thomas Whitehouse, M.A., formerly Minister of the Government Church, Cochin, and afterwards Principal and Chaplin of the Lawrence Military Asylum (aka Lovedale), Ootacamund, South India. (1873):

Buchanan (Rev. Claudius Buchanan) was there (Parur) in 1806, and in the second volume of his memoirs by Pearson there is an engraving of the old church (in Parur) which he found there. If it be at all a correct representation, it was very unlike all other Syrian Churches now existing in Malabar, especially in it’s having no raised chancel , but a round tower at the extreme end (east end) of the building – towers of any kind being very unusual in their churches. In his book Christian Researches he speaks thus: “Not far from Cranganore is the town of Parur, where there is an ancient Syrian Church, which bears the name of Apostle Thomas. It is supposed to be the oldest in Malabar, and is still used for divine service. I took a drawing of it.

The old church, sketeched by Buchanan, no longer exists. Major Mackworth, visiting the place in 1821, calls it the oldest church in possession of the Jacobite Syrians, and states that another was then building in its room. The church now occupied by them is a spacious building, and singular to say, has a square bell tower of four stories on the left hand side of the front entrance. The idea of the tower has been borrowed from Romish structures as at Verapoli, Balarpat, and Ernaculum.

Foot note: This venerable structure was one of many burnt by Tippoo Saib’s soldiers when they invaded Travancore in 1790. The injuries then received had probably led to another building being necessary.”

Remarks by Prof. George Menachery:
I do agree that the said Parur church is given as the oldest church structure in Kerala by some writers. I have myself reproduced a picture of the church forty years back in the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Vol. II, 1973,right side end paper which I had taken from the "Travels of Marco Polo," Vol.II, by Yule, edited by Cordier, London, 1926. This church is described as the oldest existing structure only because sketches of other churches were not available to the writers concerned. In Parur itself there is an old church where Roz and other bishops were buried. We must remember that there were no less than one hundred church buildings in Kerala at the time of the Synod of Diamper, 1599. There are many detailed references to the churches in the "Jornada," Coimbra, 1606 and in the various Acts and Decrees of the Synod. (cf. e.g. Geddes, 1694, reproduced in the Indian Church History Classics, Vol. I, The Nazranies, ed. George Menachery). There are references to the Syrian churches of Kerala in Joseph the Indian, 1500, ed. the late Antony Vallavanthara and also in the letter of the four bishops, 1504. The story of Vasco da Gama mistaking a temple for a church is well known. The impression we get from all these sources is that the churches at the beginning of the 17th C. were more or less like the typical old churches of the early 20th C., except for the Portuguese facades and the interior Baroque decorations. For more details on this matter cf. the various volumes referred to and the numerous photographs.in those volumes. - Prof. George Menachery.


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