St. Peter's church, M. chavadi, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu - a historical church

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St Peter's church in Manumbuchavadi (Maharnonbu Chavadi or  M. Chavadi), a suburb of Thanjavur, is one of the oldest churches in Tamil Nadu  built during the reign of the Maratha dynasty.  Rev. F.C Schwartz,  an  Angelo-Saxon missionary was instrumental in  getting a suitable land  in M.Chavadi  for the proposed church.  The Christ Church (Schwartz Church), adjacent to the famous Sivaganga park in Thanjavur, was   constructed on a land granted by  Maharajah Serfoji in honor of  Fr. Schwartz. It   initially catered to the needs of Europeans,  English soldiers in the garrison and others.  It is believed the Christ  church of Trichinopoly established  by Fr. Schwartz and others  is   the second oldest Anglican Church constructed east of the Suez.


As the  then Christian community in Thanjavur was growing up Fr. Schwartz wanted to have a  separate church built  for them out side the fort area (built by the  Vijayanagara Nayak dynasty in 1560) where  the services would be  held in Tamil.  So, he again sought the help of Raja Serfoji of the Bhonsle clan  The ruler, a person of charitable disposition  with a strong secular attitude,  granted  a vast track of land for the Christian community in M. Chavadi to live comfortably and peacefully as they were very much shaken-up  during the raid by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Tipu did not like the East India Company officials  and their dishonest trading practices and land-grabbing spree. 


On the land donated by the ruler in M.chavadi  there was  a garden house and Serfoji helped   Fr. Schwarz buy it owned by an European  with help from resident McPherson  and Gen. Hector Monroe. Subsequently, Schwartz expanded the house  to make it suitable for prayer,  a sort of Chapel and set a garden around it. Near-by, he had  built   homes for  teachers, missionaries  and also a house for him. This later came to be called mission street in M. Chavadi. When  Fr. Schwartz died on 13 Feb. 1798,  he was buried in the grave yard behind the chapel. His assistant Fr. J .C. Kohlhoff who  died in March 1744 was also buried there. 


In 1827, missionary Peter (last name?) who came to this place from Vepery, Madras, made  some drastic changes in the place of worship that would encompass the graves of Fr. Schwartz and others like Fr. Kohlhoff  who served with him.  SPCK donated 2000 sovereign gold for this project, but Peter died  before  completion of the work. Subsequently,  other evangelists  completed the work left behind by him.  The church was consecrated on 31 January 1845 by  Spencer Bishop Paul   and it was named St. Peter's  after Rev. Peter from Madras.  


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Above image: St. Peter’s church, M. Chavadi, Thanjavur, TN.   As part of restoration work internal design team developed a liturgical artistry program  matching the design and shape of the church including apse - a sort of   semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault /semi-dome in the altar. The restoration included conservation on the historic murals, and the creation of new artwork including patterning, lettering, and decoration on the ceiling as well.............


In the later period Fr. William Herbert Blake (1849 - 1923 ) of  SPG, Tanjore  took charge of the  house of worship.   Realizing the necessity  for  a spacious building to accommodate  a  big mass at a time,   he made a final decision to expand the church.  The work  began in 1899  and  in the following year, as planned before,  he was unable to consecrate the church.  However, he chose St Luke's day of 18 October  1900  for consecration  and at that time,  a big cross was brought from Nagapatinam and installed    in the church. 


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Yet  another  interesting feature of this church which  other churches in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere do not have is the installation of   two prayer bells that will  be rung twice, each producing different sound.  Using old brass and bronze scraps  dumped in one corner of  the dinning area, he had  the bells cast from  the  reprocessed scrapes.  In 2000 the church   celebrated  its completion of 100 years since its inception.


The credit goes to Fr. William H. Blake for the construction of this church with a large payer hall without any pillars. To support the big walls, he had several  retaining walls built all around the church. The church has a simple but impressive  fa├žade with a large and tall recessed  arched  entrance and  a  small  octagonal  tower on either side of the structure, rising from the top of ground floor capped  by a gently pointed dome quite similar to those in the Hindu temple. In the altar on the wall  behind there  are three   arched  recessed spaces. The aisle in the prayer hall is a spacious one for the devotees to walk comfortably. 


 From the  arched shape of  windows and entrance it is obvious it is built in  simple Gothic style with native design  elements. There are no embellishments or impressive decorations either inside or outside the church. Perhaps it might be due to financial constraints on the part of the builders.   On the parapet on the top floor terrace all around  one see small pillar like projections with a  small semi-dome at top.   At that point of time  Indo Saracenic style of architecture was beginning to gain popularity in many cities in the construction of public buildings by the Raj  and  palaces by the Indian rulers. It was popularized by the famous British architect Robert Chisholm ( a blend of European, Hindu and Islamic architectural features). So the style of design followed here is  a sort of mini Indo-Saracenic design.   What is unique about this church is its proper planning prior to expansion work. The expansion work was done with no pillars in the prayer hall. and the thick arches inside the church rest on the large pillars on either side of the side walls. For further support to the outer walls  retaining walls are built. They more or less do the function of a buttress,  an element in neo gothic style.  Despite is age the church  still looks strong. 


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The old and famous St. peter's  Higher secondary school was established by him in 1784 and its annex is also now functioning in part of the palace complex. On instruction from Fr. Schwartz,  it was the first school to offer the English language in this region   He died on 13 February 1798 just before Serfoji II ascended the throne.


 Fr. Schwartz was laid to rest in the grave yard of St.Peter's Church in Maharnonbuchavadi, Thanjavur. As a matter of fact behind the  place where initially he  had a house of worship. There is a simple tomb and the tombstone has a short memoir and an elegy in English written by Serfoji II.


Memorial  Mission st. M Chavadi Thanjavur. sriramv.wordpress.com


King Serfoji's eulogy on Fr. Swartz M. Chavadi Thanjavur. sriramv.wordpress.com


St. Peter's Thanjavur, epithet -Fr. Blake  sriramv.wordpress.com

Above image: A memorial for  Fr. William Blake (died: 15 June 1823), who successfully completed St. Peter's church.  It is the same grave yard of  St. Peter's  church  where  other workers like Casper Kolholoff ( missionary and SPCK, born at high Leigh Cashire, England). death:  30 Aug. 1849 were laid to rest..............    

Tit-bits:

There is a famous Higher Secondary school functioning  in M. Chavadi  and it is named after Fr. Blake and  it  has been there for more than  seven decades. The evangelical hall  of  M. Chavadi mission Street,  was built in 1870. Renovation and rededication was done on 9 May in 1967  by centenary committee of Vedanayagam sastruyar, EV Poet.