The High Altar of St Peter, the Patron of our Church.

Old pictures from the Archives of Stephen Lewis, Barkur, Mayura Digitals.


An Altar is a raised place that serves as the central point of religious worship. The word Altar might have derived from Latin word Altus, meaning high place. We adapted an idea of Altar long back and in the Middle Ages; our altars had been moved from a more central position in the Church to the back wall. Our elders in Barkur may remember that priest stood at the altar with his back to the worshippers. In 1964, Vatican issued a directive that altars, normally the Eucharistic table used to break the bread, symbolizing the last Supper and Christ’s supreme sacrifice on the Cross for mankind, to see, involve and to enable the congregation to participate, the altar moved away from the back, so that Priest will face them. This brought an end to the Masses only in Latin – practiced all over the world, as God’s language… Once this change came into practice, the congregation became participatory in our church, the barricades / a fortress of guardrails around the sanctuary in the front removed first and gradually all the remaining two sides, and in the beginning celebrants used to sit in the sides. Around 1970 or so, priests with altar servers made their space in front of the holy tabernacle and now-a-days only priests and altar servers stand / sit down in the side.

All the new built Churches after 1965 had only a large Holy Cross behind the celebrant and all statues of saints, including Mother Mary are now placed in the side wings. The passionate attachment of devout majority, successful in retaining their respective patron Saints high altar, in the pretext of just repair of the church continued….We Barkurians also played it safe to retain one of the greatest High Altar of Apostle St. Peter intact, till today… It is one of the most attractive and beautiful in the surrounding, next only to Milagres Cathedral, among the historical churches.

I had my first opportunity to see the small artistic statues of Apostles, at close while preparing for my First Holy Communion in May 1966. That too Rev. Fr. Aloysius Rosario, the then vicar took us in a line to introduce each one of them. Every Apostle had a story attached therein and at that tender age, Fr. Mark Valder, the Assistant Parish Priest, made us to understand why the St. Paul’s image is included, though he was not with other twelve, while Jesus was preaching. Also narrated St. Mathias the replacement of Judas Iscariot the traitor selected to make it 12. The equal sized images nicely arranged and placed in pigeon-hole compartments, designed in harmony with the whole shape of the large church….

We were also informed why St. Peter, the leader’s small image not there, since the huge attractive, one of the best, our Patrons Statue holding the keys of heaven standing atop as center of attraction.

The interesting history or mystery, how Barkurians got St. Peter as their Patron has long and interesting incidents / stories and many miracles, to narrate.

In short, first let us understand five points, to refresh our reader’s memories:

  • The Church near the Chanda’s Soda shop was totally demolished on Ash Wednesday, of 24th February, 1784, by the forces of Tippu Sultan during the Captivity of Christians. Here there was a simple Cross, which was not damaged or broken, was later taken away by some visiting Western traders, and is one of the versions of the event. The ‘Barkur Document’ an eye witness narrative written to describe the event not elaborated on this; rather it focuses on the plight and suffering of people….
  • The second Church was near MHS around the place Khuris, probably built by the Christians who returned to Barkur from Sriranagpattana, after the death of Tippu Sultan in 1799, went into decay during the controversy ‘Pedroado and Verapoly Propaganda Mission’, since there were no resident Priest was appointed and it was just a Chapel, mainly utilized for community prayer, recite Rosary etc. and the reigning patroness was Mother Mary of Holy Rosary.
  • Later Barkurians built a fairly large Chapel on the present location and this was started served from Milagres Church, Kallianpur in 1854 – 1861, under Pedro ado jurisdiction Goa.
  • Today’s independent parish was erected in the year 1861, Barkur was fortunate to remain fairly united during the unfortunate Schism of 1888, which divided the Christians into two groups – initially no sign of Syrians till the demise of Rev. Fr. Zephrine Noronha in the year 1936 and this was just a parallel group of Catholics only. This Chapel was though small in size, rose to the status of a Church and catered the needs of the faithful for 60 great years.
  • Today’s Gothic style artistic Church was built by Rev. Fr. Denis Jerome D’Souza in the year 1926, an architectural marvel, now almost completing a Century of its existence.

Some important developments in the journey of having Apostle St. Peter as our patron saint, readers may refer few of our articles published earlier in this website.

Some salient features of the High Altar:

Throughout its history, Catholicism has influenced the development of arts. Church art served both as decoration and as means of expressing and teaching religious ideas and our high altar substantiate it.

Rev. Fr. Denis D’Souza landed in Barkur on 11th September, 1915, with a novel plan in his mind to construct a new church building. He was here as Parish Priest for 14 years, till 27th April, 1929. He was young and travelled Goa, Bombay, Kerala and Madras several times to finalize a proper plan and layout. Unlike Milagres Kallianpur, the land was available here was comparatively small and no adjacent free land to acquire. The church surrounding was already developed zone of the time. There was a time daily Mass church used to be full, mainly because location of the church in the midst of Catholic families in large number. After a careful study of the ground realities, space available, resources, adhering to the Church rules and norms, the Gothic plan was ready around 1918 – 19. It took more than four long years to complete. All works to be dependent on hand. There were expert masons from Goa residing in Barkur and architects from Portugal and Spain have been consulted. Our own local artisans, labor, stone cutters were utilized to put the strong foundation which was left as it is for two rainy seasons to settle down….! The artistic woodwork, ceilings, facades, tiled roof, all needed expertise and creativity. All efforts, sacrifices of parishioners, ultimately saw the day of rejoice on 28th May, 1923, as they remained witnesses to the Blessing of the new beautiful House of God……!

A fitting pattern of High Altar was selected. Juze Mingel D’Souza came forward to bear all the expenses of the altar. The strong base, space for Holy tabernacle, attractive statues of all the 12 Apostles, six a side each, artistic images of angels kneeling either side… and on top layer again two more angels standing either side of attractive, placed on an artistic platform, authoritative St Peter, holding keys of heaven in the right hand, standing probably reminding all of us, yes, ‘you cannot enter the kingdom of God without my approval….!’. This statue of St. Peter, in Jewish attire, in full color, realistic antique finish imbibed great features of a man lived, walked with Jesus. For us at times, he looks grim faced, but most of the times bright and kind….! We were informed that, most of the statues were made in Italy, with couple of exceptions which were specially donated by some aristocrat families from Spain and Portugal. Some later additions from Goa and very few around the main body of the church from Mangalore. One can differentiate them even now with features, finish and minute art work….!

Only top part of this altar now retained as it is. Round shaped four wooden poles to support the canopy and the artwork on the top of it with the writing on the ribbon reading ‘Pasce Agnos Meos, Pasce Oves Meos’ (meaning Feed My Lambs, Feed My Sheep)……..Backdrop used to be changed frequently to suit the occasions….an attractive gold plated crown on St. Peter, was added about 15 years back….Huge size 6 chandeliers were placed to add the beauty on festivals, though now not found, but serial lights replaced them to give glittering look.

The earlier Tabernacle made out of wood replaced by steel box donated by late Ms. Almeida, in 80’s. In my opinion the size and shape not in tune with altar. (This reminds me the small Tabernacle in the Milagres Church, the way it occupies the space, matching with the artistic altar) For long the top was looking blank but recently it was painted with a host and challis. While replacing it, artists would have been consulted not to compromise the look. The band of decoration still intact with minute artwork of lively creepers and bunch of grapes….The broad platform was removed in late 70s to make space for sitting arrangements for celebrants. The previous painting on the marble, a sheep was removed and large painting was in place….

Exactly above the holy tabernacle, the most impressive Crucifix, Christ on the cross, is placed at the center of the altar, in line with kneeling angels. Here we feel, little more care to be taken to highlight it.

People are now happy to observe, that this High altar will be retained with its unique holiness and beauty. I was informed by the people working around that, they wanted to shift temporarily the gigantic St Peter to repair and clean the area, to their surprise, it’s not even shakable, forget removing….!
Before we concluded these few lines….:

Most part of the repair, renovation part of the main body of the Church nearing to complete soon. Now remains the delicate handling of restoration of natural beauty of the interiors, mainly the altar, sanctuary, with proper and matching lighting and facilities for illumination. Utmost care must be taken, while handling the artistic treasures to clean, then quality painting by professionals.

Our Vicar personally supervising the entire process and happily accepts suggestions from all quarters. One must understand his limitations, as everything except foundation, floor and walls became old and almost seen its age and time for replacement. All these needs lot of additional resources and funds, to complete, than estimated at the initial stages…..Kind hearted people are voluntarily contributing towards the cause. Through this website we too appeal Barkurians spread all over the Globe to participate in this process, generously whatever best way possible….!

With regards,

On behalf of Team Barkur-on-line,
P. Archibald Furtado, 19th September, 2019 –

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