Centuries-old St. George’s Orthodox Church at Cheppad has faced the risk of demolition for widening of National Highway (NH) 66, but it is now set to be declared a Centrally protected monument of national importance by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Last month, as directed by the ASI Director General, a team of officials from the ASI Thrissur circle inspected the church and recommended its preservation. K.P. Mohandas, superintending archaeologist, wrote a letter to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) urging it to propose a new alignment for the NH.
“It has been noticed that the church is one of the rarest in Kerala, having traditional Kerala church architectural pattern with rare and beautiful mural paintings on the walls of the altar. Considering the historic, art and architectural importance of the church, this office intends to protect the church as a Centrally protected monument of national importance. It is, therefore, informed that the present alignment of the NH may please be changed to protect this ancient church and its valuable mural paintings,” reads the letter.
Built in AD 950
It is believed that the church was built in AD 950, but some experts put the year of construction at AD 1050. Though it was rebuilt in 1952, the apse at the eastern end of the church was left intact to preserve the murals.
Forty-seven murals are arranged in three rows on three walls of the church. The paintings include those of St. Paul with a sword, the birth of Jesus Christ, resurrection of Lazar by Christ, the kiss of Judas, the Last Supper, Christ bearing the cross and being flogged by soldiers, other scenes from crucifixion, Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, and Noah’s Ark. These paintings, a blend of Persian art and Kerala’s mural artwork, have drawn enthusiasts from far and wide. Besides, Philipose Mar Dionysius, Malankara Metropolitan during the 19th Century, was buried in a sepulchre attached to its sanctuary
R. Balashankar, co-convener, BJP national training programme, who made interventions to protect the church, said it was an invaluable historic treasure. “The destruction of the tomb or the ancient mural paintings could become a matter of grave religious nature."
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a letter to Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, had said that “while the State government is committed to the widening of the NH, it is felt that a 1,000-year-old historical religious place is to be preserved.”