Cathedral of Madurai

I’d marked St. Mary’s cathedral in Madurai as something to do if we had enough time. We passed by as we were off to an early lunch. The Family asked “Why don’t we take a look?” It sounded like a good idea, so we stopped the car and walked in. Someone had set up shop right outside the gate. I looked at it in passing and thought that this was exactly the kind of thing which I would spend my pocket money on when I was a school child. Sure enough, when we were leaving two school boys were buying little treats here. That’s the featured photo.

Just inside the gate we had a good view of the two steeples flanking the entrance. It looked very festive; either some festival had just got over, or would take place soon. The plastic chairs piled up echoed the blue-and-white colour scheme of the facade. It was a big church, so I was a little surprised that they would need extra chairs. When I looked at the web site of the cathedral, I realized that the congregation was big enough that it might need the chairs on special days. Apparently the church was expanded a couple of times since it was built in 1841 CE, and I wondered whether it would be able to do that again.

The stained glass above the entrance was bright but quite simple. The rose window was also a simple pattern. I wonder why I did not take a photo. Perhaps it was because I was quite overwhelmed by the interior as I entered. The church was dressed up in pink and blue, with paper streamers strung between pillars and hanging from the roof. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the St. Mary who the church is named for, and it was. We’d arrived halfway between two days devoted to her.

I liked the flowers massed before the altar. The Family and I walked over to look at it. The church was very warm, although there were fans circulating air, and windows along the sides were open. We sat down on one of the benches under a fan, and looked around. The walls were painted white and orange, but there were gold highlights in various places.

Just above us a plaster cherub smiled down from his place on a pillar. The bright colour scheme was rendered louder by the decorations for the feast. I looked around and saw the next cherub frowning at me. I decided to take a photo of the friendlier one. I didn’t look at the other to check whether his frown had changed to a scowl.

I’d cooled down enough to walk around again. I’d missed the decorated statue of the Virgin on one side of the apse. It was the kind of painted clay idol which we’d seen on temples everywhere in and around Madurai. “Probably done by the same people,” I told The Family. She agreed. These statues are not replaced so very often, so there can’t be too many people making them, we thought. Later in the day we would find out how wrong we were.

Off on one side I saw a painted relief. I’m not sure I know the story which is being told here, but I noticed that the modeling of human figures and expressions was quite good. When the church was built enough money must have been spent to get the best of artisans and artists to decorate it. Lunch called us. We walked out, past schoolboys buying little treats from the auntie at the gate, pausing only to take a photo.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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