This crumbling church yearns for a new look

The 134-year-old place of worship, which is close to city’s Christian brethren, has an important Italian connection and a long illustrious history.

St. Peter’s Cathedral Church, a heritage edifice located in the bustling Own Town area was once a small chapel built by Fr. Carlino in 1882 near the house of Fr. Giovanni Piatti, the first Catholic priest of the city.

Later it was rebuilt by Fr. Giovanni Battista Ghidoni, Fr. Hugo Pezzoni and Fr. Paolo Arlati in 1906 — all missionaries from Italy belonging to PIME congregation — and got completed in 1911.

The church, on 1.5 acres of land, witnessed renovations in 1924 by Fr. Pezzoni, in 1937 by Fr. Arlati and in 1998 by Fr. Mallavalli Balaswamy and Fr. Thannam Marreddy.

By definition, a Cathedral is the principal church of a diocese with which the Bishop is officially associated and is an important place of worship for the Roman Catholic community.

According to sources, Archbishop James Knox during his visit to the diocese advised Bishop Battista to shift the Bishop’s house. This order got executed by next Bishop Joseph Thumma in 1972. The St. Paul’s Cathedral (at Benz Circle) attached to the Bishop’s house got completed in 1976.

The same year the St. Peter’s Church was elevated to a rank of co-cathedral and in 1997 it was elevated to the ranks of Cathedral thanks to the efforts of Bishop Joji.

“When Vijayawada was a big village, the church was the most sought-after place especially during Christmas time. A good number of Anglo-Indians used to come to the church,” reminisces a devotee.

Aging celebrity

This imposing structure, known for its Italian Gothic architecture, has faced the ravages of time. It now projects a look of an aging celebrity and yearns for a makeover without losing its originality.

The place of worship was constructed with lime and mortar. The church is gradually losing it sheen and is crumbling owing to the inherent weakness of the construction material used. “A good measure of water has seeped into the walls and they are not strong enough to hold the structure for long,” says Rev. Fr. Lamu Jayaraj.

Says Ch. Nageswara Rao, a civil engineer and a builder: “The lime mortar was used those days to allow the building to breathe and adjust to the temperature variations. Lime mortar is like elastic. On the contrast cement is an instant mix but will not enable the structure to breathe”.

Chipped walls, widening cracks, broken windows, overflowing drainage and leaking roof reflects unfortunate condition of one of the oldest churches in the city. The exquisite embellishments too are in a bad shape. The cement plastered on the red-brick walls in a recent patch-up had started eating into the original lime mortar construction.

“Periodical renovations are not helping us anymore. All the walls should be stabilised with a chemical treatment. They should be scraped and plastered with the cement. The electrical wires should be replaced, otherwise there is a possibility of short-circuiting,” opines Fr. Jayaraj.

He says the doors and windows should be replaced with the new ones and the flooring has to be raised by one and a half feet. A new roof is needed as there is leakage during the monsoon.

With the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation raising the level of the road, the church is now lying in a low area and facing frequent overflow of drain and rainwater. “We are also facing the threat of losing 40 feet in the front for road widening,” says Fr. Jayaraj.

He says the church authorities consulted experienced engineers and they advised that the works should be taken up urgently. “Clearly there is a big challenge ahead to restore the original glory of the church,” he says.

“We have already collected Rs. 60 lakh from the devotees. We need a budget of Rs. 3 crore for sprucing up a new church. But there is a fear that we might lose the originality of the church,” he adds.

The church authorities, keeping in mind the ever-growing devotees, are also contemplating bringing down the structure and building an all-new one with parking facilities at the cellar and a provision for a community hall.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:48:21 AM |

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