The Colonial Heritage

K Mohan, Convenor, INTACH Calicut Regional Chapter | Jan 01, 2012 | Vol 4, Issue 1
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Over 400 year old Marti De Church at Kozhikode, still stands proud as a mark of the colonial era from the time of Portugese and as an excellent architecture with European influence.

Matri dei (Mother of God) cathedral in Kozhikode (Calicut), built by Vasco Da Gama, four centuries ago and still stands as an architectural master piece in Gothic style reflecting the bygone era.

Gama landed near Kozhikode in 1498 with the intention to begin trade with Zamorin, the local king. History books tell us that Gama was surprised to learn that Christianity was already practiced here. It seems that Gama has stated, “all the buildings are as tall as my horse with timbers running across with plaited palm leaves as roof". 

The missionary work was initiated by Padre Pedro de Covilham, a Trinitarian monk who accompanied Vasco da Gama and his entourage.  When Captain Pedro Alvarez Cabral came to Calicut in 1500, he was accompanied by a Vicar, priests and Franciscans who were allowed to preach the gospel.They built a Chapel near the Portuguese Factory at Calicut. In 1513, during the time of Alonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese received permission to build a port at Calicut and a church was also constructed near it.

In 1599, the Zamorin constructed a spacious church at his own expenses in the port area and dedicated to the Matri dei (Mother of God).  The main dome with the huge cross atop it of the present structure was thus constructed. This structure of 44 meters height was a land mark and an identification point   for vessels traversing the sea. The building architecture style is Gothic. The masons and all technical help were from Portugal. Lime stone and sand combination were used for plastering. For the first time, European construction methods were used.

Modifications were done at different times and the two new structures on either side were constructed later. In one structure you can find a huge bell, weighing 150 lbs(pound), which was cast at Calicut. This bell is rung thrice a day, 5.30 in the morning, 12 noon and 6.30 pm on all days. Till about 20 years ago they used to fire the Kathina at sunset which resulted  in a loud boom .Kathina is a cylindrical iron akin to a short cannon barrel of  30 cms length. This ritual practice was later stopped as the structure itself was getting affected by the vibration.

Two years ago a fund of Rs.2 crores mainly from a European organization Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian was allocated for maintenance and the work was done. The sad part was that after chipping off the lime-sand mortar, it was plastered with cement.  Now the church looks new, the floors are of granite and walls painted.  The main three doors in the front are constructed new in teak with exquisite carvings. There was a rectangular pond on the south of the church, which was later filled with mud to make a play ground for the school nearby. On the northern side was the earlier burial ground, where tomb stones of various types can be found.

Location/access: Near St Joseph's schools' complex and behind Calicut court complex. One km from Railway station and can be visited any time during the day (the door at the rear will be opened ).

For info: The Parish Priest, Mother of God cathedral, Kozhikode - 673 032
Ph: +91- 495-2366301,

The author is the Convenor for INTACH, Calicut Regional Chapter

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