The church at Medak's heart

Tonsuring is a way of thanksgiving here

The 175-foot tall main tower of Medak Cathedral.  Photos by author

Come December 25, Medak town and its surrounding areas get ready for the annual Christmas jatra. The visitors, cutting across caste and creed, turn up at the fair. The newly-rich farmers in this sugar cane belt, arrive at the Medak Cathedral for thanksgiving.

Cultivators of paddy in the Ghanpur Anicut Command area of the district Medak pray for a bumper crop.

Unlike other churches, a large number of devotees tonsure their heads here in return for favours bestowed on them. Others break coconuts at a designated place in the church. Barbers do brisk business during the two days of festivity around the church.

The church has been the centre of all the activities in the town. It is a landmark and one of the presiding deities for the local population. They offer prayers when someone in the family manages to get married, when a child is born or someone gets a job.

Located 90 km from Hyderabad, the Medak Cathedral, the largest in South-Asia, belongs to the biggest diocese in Asia, the Medak Diocese, under the Church of South India (CSI). The formerly Anglican, now CSI Cathedral was built by the British Wesleyan Methodists.
The church stands glorious amid sylvan surroundings. Built of pure white granite, this Gothic style structure is one of the best churches in the country. Constructed by Rev Charles Walker Posnett, the magnificent church stands on a sprawling 1,000 acres of land.  It took 10 years for construction and was sanctified on December 25, 1924.

Interiors of the cathedral. According to available records, the church was built during a famine that struck Medak during World War I. Posnett was posted as Reverend in Medak during that time. Moved by the plight of the people due to the unprecedented famine that lasted for three years, he proposed a great church in 1914 so that the poor could find gainful employment. The poor used to work and stay near the construction site. The bond between the poor and the church remained strong in the last eight decades.

The structure, which measures 100 ft in width and 200 ft in length, can accommodate nearly 5,000 people at a time. The 175-foot tall main tower is surrounded by four pinnacles. The imposing tower could be seen from miles away. Had it not been for the Nizam, the church would have been taller. Old-timers recall that when he gave permission for building the cathedral, the Nizam laid down condition, that the church should not be taller than Charminar.

The three magnificent stained glass windows inside the cathedral depict different phases of the life of Jesus Christ. Sir Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962) did the art work on the Ascension, Nativity and Crucifixion. Sir Francis was a Methodist artist from Harpenden in Hertfordshire, who specialised in portraits, large canvases of historical and ceremonial events, stained glass and book illustration. In his heydays, he made a fortune on both sides of the Atlantic and was known as “Britain’s Painter Laureate”. His art was steadfastly conservative and he was a vitriolic critic of modern art - particularly Picasso, Chagall and Mondrian. The three glass windows add to the Gothic nature of the Cathedral.

The roof of the church is soundproof, made of hollow sponge material and has an impressive style of vaulting. The pipe organ, also from London, was used last 30 years ago. It is lying unused as it needs repairs. Fr Dhanraj feels that there are enough
musicians who can repair the pipe organ. The Medak Diocese is in contact with organ repair workshops in Kolkata and hopes to play the piped organ to fill the church with gospel music.

The floor

The mosaic floor has six different coloured tiles - red, brown, yellow, chocolate, black and gray - made in famous English potteries of the day and skillfully laid by Italian workers brought in from Bombay. The floor was the gift of Joseph Rank, one of the greatest benefactors of the Methodist Missionary Society. Rev Posnett, a true visionary, had kept tonnes of pottery tiles imported from Britain in the basement of the church for future use.
The boys and girls from Wesley hostels run by Rev Posnett and a large number of worshippers used to sit on the floor. The floor and the gallery in the church can seat about 4,000 people.

Faithful members of the church claim that when the church was inaugurated on Christmas eve in 1924 there was a gathering of nearly 5,000 Christians and non-Christians from
urban and rural areas and visitors from other denominations, all of whom sat on the grand floor. 

According to presbyter-in-charge and Medak district church council chairman Y Robinson, the church still has a huge inventory of tiles stored in the basement but ran out of certain colours and shapes.

Two more structures in the church of the Medak Diocese were built with imported stone.

The baptismal forte was built of bath stones gifted by the O L Vickers couple in memory of Vickers’ sister who died while working as a staff nurse at the Holdsworth Memorial Hospital (popularly Mission Hospital) in Mysore. The reredos (ornamental screen in the back of altar) was a gift of J Gordon. It is made of Italian marble of different colours. Its broken edge has been replaced with black Indian marble.

Christmas celebrations

The Medak Church is getting ready for Christmas celebrations. More than one lakh pilgrims are expected to participate in the celebrations on December 25. Devotees from not only the State but also from neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra will take part in the celebrations. The surroundings of the church are being illuminated with colourful lighting.

A Christmas Jatra is held in the open grounds surrounding the church. Hundreds of makeshift tents will come up offering the pilgrims a variety of food, beads, toys, readymade dresses and an assortment of joy rides. Farmers bring their families in bullock carts a day before Christmas. They cook, pray and eat for a day.

On this year’s programme, Rev Robinson said “the youth wings will be organising a night service at the Cathedral, followed by the early morning service. Bishop Rt Rev T S Kanaka Prasad will be leading the mass on December 25.”

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