Saint Mary’s Church

Saint Mary’s Church

Kaduthuruthy, Kerala, India

Religious Architecture

The church of Kaduthuruthy is situated in the former territory of the king of Thekkumkur. It stands out not just for the façade decoration, which has a most evident Indian feel, but above all for the refinement and monumentality of its large granite cross. A Malayalam inscription on a stone embedded in the side façade is especially important as it refers to the construction date, explaining that “Mar Abraham with four catanars [priests] with all the instruments and vestments the five hands placed the foundation stone in 1590”. The construction date allows us to place this church typology in a first phase of evolution based on Mannerist models imported from Europe, whose decoration gradually absorbed a native iconography and feel. In this regard, we note that the façade columns have become thicker, the pediments undulate, the cornices and entablatures are doubled, the pinnacle finials are bulbous and bas-relief figures of Hindu influence fill the façade surfaces. This profusion of bas- reliefs reveals an aspect of Indian spirituality whereby such sculptures appear as protective entities to whom worshippers present offerings. This is doubtless the meaning of Saint George, whose struggle against the devil made him the protector against evil spirits, clearly in tune with the Hindu pantheon wherein various fighting gods also assure that protection. The church’s interior programme follows a typically Portuguese typology of single nave with large triumphal arch accessing the high altar’s chapel, with coffered vault above and a beautiful carved and painted gilt retable. The Mannerist two-level framework is divided by columns framing niches with full-figured images. This retable scheme acquires a new dynamic with the top crowned by large volutes and angels – more in line with baroque tastes of the 18th century. Also noteworthy inside is the handsome carved stone baptismal font, with decoration assuming a profoundly Indian aesthetic, here naturally accompanying the liturgical ceremonies. But what is most exception about Kaduthuruthy’s church is the cross’s grandiosity and precious decoration. This huge granite cross stands on a pedestal marked at each vertex by four elephants, where biblical scenes harmoniously combine with warlike scenes in a very refined aesthetic whole. The cross’s inauguration date is mentioned in the text by António Gouvea. That author reports that when Archbishop Friar Aleixo de Meneses and his entourage were staying at the church’s parish house in Easter week of 1599, “in the middle of the church courtyard they had made a very large cross of very handsome stone two years ago”. Such large crosses played a very significant role in enhancing processional ritual and correspond to an old tradition of the Saint Thomas Christians, which was exalted by the Portuguese influence.

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