A marvelous Heritage Structure: St. Peter Church, Barkur.


All of us are aware of the much needed repair, restoration and maintenance of almost a century old Barkur Church Building has commenced since October, 2018. First of all, those who have liking, love and passion for age old architectural monuments felt a sigh of relief, as it has now a days, become a fashion, prestige and show, to demolish the old Church buildings and construct new ones. Of course, a good number of them have become congested and few beyond economical repair…..though not outdated, spacious ones were required to accommodate the enlarged parish family……Few were absolutely a waste of resources, a subject of envy to those eyes, who look at us with suspicion….
 

 
However that is not the subject for this write-up. Coming to Barkur Church, which edifices beauty, dignity, style and divine feeling to those enter it will be restored with all its architectural richness.
 
 
 
 
Brief history of the Church in Barkur:
 
Historical Barkur then known as a maritime port, had been attributed to the legend narrating the arrival of two Apostles viz. St Thomas and Bartholomew, Christ’s contemporaries in the first century itself, as the latter preferred to stay over here and the place was eventually named after him….The faith was not spread as a religion then, but a way of life… and a sizable number followed it for centuries in the surrounding….There were no houses of God, or Church, as the house of the village head probably was the place of worship….
 
Centuries rolled over…. and in later years in the 14 th to 17 th centuries, Portuguese Missionaries from Goa had a larger stake in spreading the Catholic faith in the region, directly… and indirectly prompted many to immigrate from Goa and settle in the Coastal Karnataka. Barkur being the commercial center and the Capital city during Alupas, and fortunate to enjoy a place of strategic importance under Hoysala, Vijaya Nagara rulers, was a well-planned prosperous port city, as there were references of this town in the history pages and also a cosmopolitan house for people from different faiths and religion. There are hearsay stories, claiming there existed a Church and a Synagogue either in Barkur or in Baikady….The
earliest record available says that a Church existed in Barkur was destroyed by the soldiers of Tippu Sultan in 1783, when they took all Christians into captivity in Srirangapattana in Mysore. After the death of Tippu Sultan in 1799, very few people who returned and settled over here constructed a church, in the beginning of 1801, dedicated to our Lady of Holy Rosary near the todays Maryknoll High School. This went into decay during the Pedroado-Verapoly controversy, around 1835…… As the number of people following the region was steadily increasing, a chapel was in the place, served by Milagres Church Kallianpur, at the same location where todays St Peter Church stands since 1854. The Chapel was promoted as a full-fledged Church and an independent parish on 29-04-1861, with a resident Vicar, Fr.Cosmos Damian Rebello. Till the year 1921 when Airody St. Anthony Church and Holy Family Church in Brahmavar were erected, 14 th February, in the year 1934, it was Barkur Church, catered the religious
needs of the huge geographical area ranging almost from Kota to parts of Brahmavar.
 
As years passed by and the number of parishioners were increasing, a genuine need for a larger church was felt. Our ancestors, living in far away locations used to come on previous day and there were some temporary arrangements for their accommodation near the Friday Market…the long holy week service, enactment of Biblical events etc. were held in the open ground under the shade of huge trees…..and a make shift pendal….
 
There was a genuine need for a spacious church but resources were in scarcity, people were poor, almost 65 long years, a tiny Chapel, since 1854 to 1923, holding the faithful in its holy arms. There were attempts and plans to extend the prayer house and priests serving accumulated material, like wooden logs, a special fund in this direction. A chain of political uncertainties, First World War, and mainly the lack of monetary resources didn’t encourage the concerned going for a new Church.
 
Mons. Denis Jerome D’Souza – the architect of artistic Church:
 
Young, farsighted, devout, short in stature, Rev Fr. Denis Jerome D’Souza was the Assistant Vicar of Milagres Church Kallianpur, was handpicked by the then Bishop of Mangalore to be the Parish Priest of Barkur Church with a mission, on 11 th September, 1915. Milagres Church treasury and the Diocese donated an initial fund to start the much needed new Church Building. The enthusiastic parishioners scarified more than what they can afford….by way of free labor, material etc. Non catholic well-wishers were very spontaneous by donating trees, tiles, lateral stones from Giri, free transportation by their bullock carts and boats…..As we were told, the whole town was involved, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, as it was ‘Devara Kelasa’……Many rich families donated rice, jaggery and other cereals and spices etc. to feed the labor working round the clock.
 
Late Didwac Sequeira father of famed John P. Sequeira was the administrator, masons and carpenters were brought from Goa, supported by local artisans, Gothic designers from Spain and Portugal, few marble stones for sanctuary from Italy…..High Altar of Apostle St Peter was donated by Joseph Mingel D’Souza, Tiles from Mahabaleshwar Shetty from Mabukal, free of cost……. At last an attractive architectural marvel was ready for inauguration on 28 th May, 1923 in the blessed hands of then Bishop of Mangalore Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Perini, S.J. as the whole town was celebrating…..!
 
Some salient features of the Church structure:
 
It’s a perfect example for Gothic style of architecture in the region, often identified with such constructional devices as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses etc. Most of the other historic churches in the Diocese are a mixture of Basque and Gothic style including the present Milagres
Cathedral in Kallianpur. The skill of designers and the technical ability of carvers of those days witnessed in the wood works with elaborate decorations. One can observe the extended piers into the roof area and then curved out the individual columns like a ribs of an open umbrella. An aerial view of this immense size and height of the Church, gives a Cross shape from above and the earlier portico too was supporting and adding the value to its main structure. (However, there were leakages and a need for a hall, hence Present portico was re- built by Fr. J.N. Lobo in 1981). The two side wings were extended a little, the left side by Fr. Marian Castelino in the year 1940 and the right side by Fr. Thomas Aquinas Lobo in the year 1947.
 
The wooden ceilings above the sanctuary and sacristy was repaired and rebuilt by Fr. Aloysius Rosario, in 1968, with no alterations to the original style. The most attractive Belfry with three gigantic Bells from Germany was an added in the year 1962 by him, in a befitting style to the adjoining church architecture. During the Centenary Celebrations of the Church, in 1958, Rev. Fr. Charles Nazareth, electrified the whole church and Barkurian Association of Bombay, financed the laying of mosaic tiles to the main body of the church, for the first time in the then Kallianpur varado ( present diocese of Udupi) Portico, side wings, had ordinary floor, got repaired by Fr. Joseph D’Souza. To make space for sitting facilities and platform, to the celebrants near the tabernacle, as per the new form of liturgy, he reluctantly but carefully removed the artistic marble pillars and good shepherd painting down the high altar, in the year 1973. What one sees now was again renovated work by Fr. Benjamin D’Souza, including the marble floor
of the sanctuary. There were some alterations to the facade with the addition of one more pillar either side, to match the new built portico…..which was not in tune with the high altar, the main door and the original façade……! Alas, time and again at the pretext of repair and modernization, many sculptures, paintings, hanging oil lamps, chandeliers, portraits, decorative items, and illuminated manuscripts, might have been thrown to the dustbins……! Nevertheless, the same original century old, most attractive statue of Apostle St. Peter, our patron holding keys of heaven stand high on the wooden cum marble high Altar and remained center of attraction…..!!
 
The high walls, now missing systematic provisions for oil lamps in the whole church, the wooden pulpit at the center, earlier used to deliver sermons during holy week, artistic life size statues of various saints in the columns, ( unfortunately they were removed mercilessly with no concern to preserve them, to make space for sound boxes) artistic windows to allow sufficient light during the day, round shaped huge windows with stained glasses from three sides, arc type huge wooden doors with colorful matching stained glasses on the top and so on so forth…….these memories always enthrall me and many even this day….. Yes, all cannot build such masterpieces, but all of us should definitely do something to preserve them for the generation to come. Under the given circumstances our parish has no or little chance to look for an increase in the number of parishioners, except during festal celebrations and at times during funerals, church is full to its capacity.
 
Rev. Fr. Valerian Mendonca constructed the adjacent solid state of the art parochial house as a memorial of post centenary Golden Jubilee, in 2016, with a farsighted vision to accommodate resident priests, with provision for guest priests, office and conference hall etc. A visionary in him had a plan to have an English Medium School / Junior College and anticipating a HM or Principal priest, need to be accommodated…..! Understand that roof top was named after the holy son of the Barkurian soil, ‘Rev.Fr. Alfred Roche OFM Cap. Memorial’, as a museum to preserve his rare belongings as relics, who is on his way to sainthood….rightfully a must visit place in future….!
 
A word of appreciation to the Vicar for his true concern for the restoration of original Church:
 
Fr. Philip Neri Aranha, who built the new and modern Mount Rosary church at Kallianpur - Santhekatte now the parish Priest of Barkur Church, spearheading the repair and restoration of this historical Church. No doubt being young and energetic he is leading from the front and succeeded in getting a sanction of Rs. 50 Lakhs from the Govt. of Karnataka. Parishioners, far and near, joining their hands in this holy work with generous contributions and sacrifices…. We have seen and observed the true concern, passion and enthusiasm in few of his team members…
 
No doubt, constructing altogether a new building is easy, than to repair and restore the old, not compromising the original architectural values….It must be the will of Almighty Lord that a church dedicated to St Peter a close accomplice of his master Jesus Christ to be retained status quo, as it was once a tourist attraction, to all visiting historical Barkur…!
 
On behalf of Barkuronline team,
P. Archibald Furtado. 20th October, 2018.


 

 

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