29 September 2015

Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena, Mysore, Karnataka


“A good traveler is the one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler is the one who does not know where he came from.”
– Lin Yu-tang, Chinese writer (1895-1976)

Soon enough, in slightly less than a month from now to be precise, it’s going to be the four-year anniversary of “Pixelated Memories”. It really is tremendously hard to believe that it has been such a painstakingly long, long time travelling and writing. Equally difficult is the dazzling comprehension about the numerous gorgeous places I’ve been to, the infinite number of fascinating people I’ve encountered, inexplicable emotions felt, colorful souvenirs and photographs collected, and most importantly, bewitching memories cherished. As mentioned once previously on this blog, the journey hasn’t always been easy – I’ve often been utterly frustrated by the lack of inspiration (writer’s block!) or the paucity of sufficient funds and enthusiastic companionship. There have been n number of times when I had to grudgingly ask myself if I wanted to eat better or drift further – and more often than not, travelling triumphed – it is somehow unreservedly preposterous to stay at one place and miss out on wandering around and admiring the magnificent landscapes that nature benevolently studded this country with and the hundreds of spellbinding colossal edifices that mankind constructed in his persistent zeal for unparalleled renown and architectural immortality. Of course, there is also the considerable pressure of maintaining a thoroughly-detailed memoir, a journal of all my sojourns and musings which I can refer to when I’m old and senescent and incapable of pinning names on the photographs I’m clicking now. Or perhaps not trustful enough to accept that massive Gothic palaces and outstanding cathedrals – like the unbelievably beautiful Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena – could exist in this part of the world as well.


Singular - The Church of St. Joseph and St. Philomena


Inspired by the Cologne Cathedral of Germany and constructed in 1936 in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture, St. Philomena’s Church (as it is popularly referred to) can unarguably be regarded as one of the defining landmarks of the magnificent city of Mysore. Capturing brightly illuminating rays of sunshine in its numerous painted glass windows and stretching its painstakingly carved, 175-feet tall twin towering spires in a remarkable attempt to touch the sky, the handsome church dominates the beautiful city’s skyline and generously reflects upon the extraordinary amalgamation of different faiths, cultures and architectural styles that the Wadiyar/Wodeyar Dynasty (reign AD 1399-1947 over most of Karnataka and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) impressively achieved. The present edifice, an exceptional epitome of Gothic architecture and its fascinating visual impact especially in an undeniably foreign setting, is located at the site of an earlier wooden church that was consecrated in AD 1843 and was commissioned by the then sovereign H.H. Maharaja Sri Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (reign AD 1799-1868) for the British Catholic soldiers posted at nearby military town of Seringapatnam to pray at. The legend inscribed on the foundation stone of the original church read –

“In the name of that only God – the universal Lord who creates, protects, and reigns over the universe of Light, the mundane world and the assemblage of all created lives – this church is built 1843 years after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Enlightenment of the World, as man."


Exemplar!


Upon the request of Father Cochet, the second church was commissioned in 1933 by H.H. Maharaja Sri Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (reign AD 1894-1940) to house the sacred relics of St. Philomena of Greece that his personal secretary T. Thumboo Chetty had obtained in 1926. The designs were prepared by a French architect remembered only as Daly (next to nothing is known about him and his credentials) and the construction was overseen by Bishop Rev. Rene Feuga (Parish priest, 1831-41). The structure was consecrated in 1936 and dedicated to St. Philomena (lived AD 291-304), the martyred Greek princess who had committed her life and love to God and took a vow of consecrated virginity at the tender age of 13 years (soon thereafter, the Roman Emperor Diocletian cruelly threatened to destroy her father’s kingdom, relented only after he inconsiderately decided to marry her on a whim and, unnervingly infuriated at her continued refusal, had her barbarically tortured and mercilessly decapitated). Numerous churches and cathedrals have been commissioned throughout the world since after the discovery of her sacred remains in the year 1802 in Rome and her cult remains particularly strong in the Indian state of Karnataka where several charitable institutions and hospitals are financed and managed by religious organizations associated with her name. On the fronts of faith and belief however, recent archaeological developments and historical literary records and practices have cast deep doubts over whether the hallowed relics brandished throughout the world as the martyred child’s are actually hers – the hollowed rock mausoleum where they were found bore the Latin inscription “pax tecum Filumena” (“Peace with you, Philomena”), however placed deliberately in an incorrect manner which was generally accomplished by medieval clergy and church functionaries to indicate the reuse of a mausoleum for a second burial.


Sublime!


This, and the numerous scientific papers questioning the veracity of the accounts of St. Philomena’s life and the Vatican’s refusal to venerate and canonize her as a saint, of course do not in the slightest deter the faithful nor do they erase the honorific “Saint” affixed preceding her name. Be that as it may, the church in Mysore is definitely unique, not merely because it is a singularly focused entity in terms of its architectural inspiration in a visually heterogeneous city otherwise renowned for its eclectic edifices conceived to blend in numerous styles and symbolic motifs, but also because it is a rare example of the cultural and architectural synergy that is becoming so drastically threatened to extinction in these troubled times – commemorating a Greek saint, financed by a Hindu King and designed following German architectural ethos by an unknown French architect for British soldiers to worship in!

The colossal church is built in the shape of an enormous cross and its two remarkably gorgeous towers pierce the sky towering over the peaceful green crowns of surrounding trees and the roofs of the neighborhood houses and can easily be recognized from rooftops around for several kilometers. The immensity of the soaring towers however do pose the often encountered (and immediately sympathized with!) extreme difficulty involved in attempting to photograph the entire massive structure justifiably well – I too was forced to click most of the photographs in portrait orientation despite my near aversion to. It need not be mentioned that Gothic edifices are always a source of wide-eyed fascination given that very few exemplar specimens were ever built in the vast subcontinent – the church here is definitely an epitome of the same.


Graphic!


The entire vertical immensity is finely balanced by stone buttresses, as is common with most Gothic structures, especially cathedrals, of such grand proportions. The massive structure is flanked on either side by two large sculptures (although visually dwarfed by the towers’ gigantism) composed of flawless white marble. The first is that of St. Philomena, appearing immaculate celestial and depicted with a substantially heavy anchor by her side and a small arrow clutched in her hand (proclaimed symbols of her unflinching martyrdom since she was repetitively tormented (and miraculously saved) by being fired upon with arrows and drowned tied to heavy anchors). The second portrays a bearded and robed St. Joseph, the husband of Mary (Jesus’s mother), triumphantly holding in his arms a baby Jesus – for some mysterious reason, and puzzlingly so, everybody omits St. Joseph’s name from the church’s when referring to it. The expansive grounds adjoining the leviathan church building also house the offices and residential quarters of the Order’s clergy and a school run under their aegis. Photography is prohibited within the church (and the housekeeping staff does very strictly implement the same), however the Father there generously, and quite instantaneously, granted me the requisite permissions and even had a caretaker show me around and point out the consecration stones and commemorative tablets pertaining to the Bishops interred herein and the gorgeous, vividly multihued stained glass windows. The devotees being very much Indian here, one does notice the practice, same as one would in a mosque or a temple, of leaving one’s footwear outside before stepping into the premises.


Hallowed!


Apart from the numerous dexterously carved sculptures and bewitching scenes from Jesus’s life and tribulations and the twelve most significant occurrences in his short life painted on small wooden panels, one cannot fail being impressed by the numerous colorful, brilliantly-lit dioramas, painstakingly crafted sculptures (wreathed with flower garlands and fairy lights!) and the overall striking symmetry and immediately noticeable gracefulness of the architecture. The perspective unity introduced by the handsome Corinthian pillar shafts culminating into gorgeous bouquets of Acanthus blossoms before converging into soaring pointed arches no doubt spectacularly contributes to the effect. Numerous captions painted on wooden tablets adorn the walls to create a rather crowded mishmash of wooden boards and plastic fixtures, among them –

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
Amen.”

Closer to the altar is a narrow staircase leading down to a small subterranean chamber harshly lit with fluorescent lights – here, in the likeness of a beautiful blonde damsel lying prone within a glass and wood case, surrounded by numerous flower vases are contained the remains of St. Philomena – legend goes that soon after the discovery of the bone dust remains, the same multiplied to a large amount and could therefore provide for hundreds of deeply venerated repositories throughout the world! Hoping for spiritual blessings, financial prosperity and physical and matrimonial well being, devotees leave offerings of coins and currency down a large well-like opening adjoining the highly realistic casket.


Tragedy!


On either side exist very dimly-lit narrow passages lined with black-grey stone slabs engraved with the names of hundreds of thousands of faithful who chose to be buried in crypts in the vicinity of the saint’s mortal remains – among them the Maharani of Bajang (Nepal) who lies interred so very far from her kingdom! Sadly though, visitors have vandalized these too with grotesquely etched love letters and hieroglyphs. Walking through the cool, dark passages is definitely a strange experience full of strange morbid sensations – the uninterrupted loneliness, the sudden intense feeling of walking subterranean amongst the dead, the deeply evocative darkness intermittently punctured by shards of orange-yellow light emitted by low-wattage incandescent bulbs – at the same time one does not wish to walk into the blinding illumination outside and is also inexplicably afraid to stay. But walk back to the sunshine one does. The dead are not going anywhere. For the rest, life must go on.


Spooky!


Open: Everyday, 5 am – 6 pm
Mass timings: Monday-Saturday: 5.30 am, 6.15 am, 7 am and 4 pm; Sundays: 5 am, 6 am, 7 am, 8 am, 9 am and 4 pm
Nearest bus stop: Suburban sto
How to reach: Walk or avail a bus/auto from Suburban bus stop (850 meters away) or City bus stop (1.8 kilometers away).
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil. But prohibited within the church.
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hr
Relevant Links -
Other monuments/landmarks located in Mysore - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Mysore Palace
  2. Pixelated Memories - Seringapatnam (Mandya)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Sri Chamundeshwari Temple
Suggested reading - 
  1. Wikipedia.org - Philomena
  2. Wikipedia.org - St. Philomena's Church, Mysore

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