The vanilla-clad church where history takes a slumber
The two lofty spires of the church beckon the faithful from afar. The church ceilings are adorned with overwhelmingly beautiful paintings themed on the ‘The Passion and death on the Cross’ by Italian painter from Bergamo, Fra Antonio Moscheni SJ and his student, De Gama of Mangalore.
By Anitta Bejoy
Memories are galore when I glance through the days that went by, and the memory of a particular place of worship, outshines any other. Pleasant remembrances of the gone days have all one thing in common—a church we call dear, the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica of Fort Kochi.
The vanilla-shaded Gothic church has more to it than what meets the eye. The church is essentially a blend of architectural brilliance and artistry, not to leave out its historical significance.
The history of the church dates back to five centuries before when the Second Portuguese Armada under Pedro Álvares Cabral, anchored at Cochin. The warm reception of the Portuguese Armada by the King of Cochin, provoked the Zamorin of Calicut, who in turn declared war against the Kingdom of Cochin.
The army of the Zamorin was defeated by the Portuguese, who assisted the Kingdom of Cochin in war, under Commander Dom Afonso de Albuquerque. The land where the basilica now situates, was given to the Portuguese by the King of Cochin, as a gesture of gratitude, and subsequently, a fortress was erected at the place for better security.
The first Portuguese Viceroy of India, Dom Francisco de Almeida (known as "the Great Dom Francisco"), received the permit from King Unni Godha Varma Thirumulpadu, the then King of Cochin, to build a church in the land given.
The first church, built using mortar and stones, was consecreated on May 3, 1505—the feast day of the Invention of the Holy Cross. Hence the name 'Santa Cruz'. Later in 1557, the Diocese of Cochin was erected by Pope Paul IV, in his Decree Pro Excellenti Praeeminentia, later on lifting the Santa Cruz Church to the status of a Cathedral of the newly created Diocese.
As time progressed, the Dutch conquest led to the demolition of the Catholic monuments in 1663. The Santa Cruz Cathedral was spared but it remained the arms warehouse of the Dutch until the British invasion of 1795, when the Cathedral suffered ruins at the hands of the British.
The reconstruction works of the cathedral began almost a century later when Bishop D. Joao Gomes Ferreira (1887-1897) took initiative to rebuild the edifice. Upon his death, D. Mateus de Oliveira Xavier, the next bishop of the Diocese of Cochin, undertook the work and completed the construction.
The present-day cathedral was consecrated on November 19, 1905, and on August 23, 1984, it was raised to the status of a Basilica by Pope John Paul II through a special Decree, "Constat Sane Templum Sanctae Cruci”.
The two lofty spires of the church beckon the faithful from afar. The church ceilings are adorned with overwhelmingly beautiful paintings themed on the ‘The Passion and death on the Cross’ by Italian painter from Bergamo, Fra Antonio Moscheni SJ and his student, De Gama of Mangalore. The pastel interiors, the stained glass windows, the paintings which depict the 'Way of the Cross' and Da Vinci's Last Supper, together with the frescoes, give an ethereal feel to the church.
The sub-stations of the basilica are at the Fatima Shrine near the Basilica, Fort Kochi, St. Joseph's Church at Adhikarivalapppu, St. Anthony's Chapel at Pattalam, St. Jude's chapel at Pattalam, St. Anthony's Chapel at Kunnumpuram, St. Jacob's Chapel at Chirattapalam, Little Flower Chapel at Kunnumpuram, and the Cemetery Chapel of All Souls at Vely.
The basilica is breathtakingly lit in blue during the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, celebrated in high spirits by the parishioners, during the first Sunday of October. The church is all the more beautiful during Christmastime.
When in a prayerful repose at the church, one is surrounded the presence of an “unearthly bliss”, a former parish priest quotes. It is with utmost admiration that I view the interiors of the church, everytime I visit. I still treasure the first Friday services our teachers used to take us to, and the Sunday evening service at the church, with the heavenly choral music resounding in my ears.
I was fortunate enough to spend most of my childhood days playing at the chuch grounds, our school being near to the church premises. Even though my family settled far from the church later in life, the place kept drawing me near.
For me, it was a place where I literally grew up—a little piece of heaven—a home away from home.