St. Peter's church (1829), Royapuram and legal dispute over its control

St.Peter's church (1829)Royapuram, Chennai

Ft. St. George. Madras (Chennai) old
 It is a deplorable fact that unwanted disputes arise over places of religious worship for serious or petty reasons and such things do happen in all religions, irrespective of countries and regions.  The people involved in such disputes over gods' houses do not care either about the sanctity of the place or about their own  virtues of perseverance and solve the disputes peacefully, instead of approaching the court of law to resolve the issue. In the heart of Royapuram lies an old and historical church known as St. Peter's built by the Indian Christian  boatmen community in the middle of the 19th century. Though their devotion to Christianity is not questionable, the control of Arch diocese of Mylapore in the religious administration of the church caused resentment among the community that built the church. Mired in controversy, the legal wrangle in the court between the Arch diocese and the boatmen community continued for a pretty long time to such an extent, the church was closed for more than a decade in the 1930s. No masses, no daily prayers. Perhaps, it may be a prolonged religious dispute before the court in the colonial history of India!!

St. Peter's Church at Royapuram, Chennai from whose name Royapuram  is derived  based on the Tamil word Royappar,  began as a chapel in 1780. It was  built exclusively by the industrious and hard working Hindu community called Gurukula Vamsha Varnakula Mudaliars. By profession, they were boatmen migrated from a place called Durgapatinam near Pulikat on the Coromandel coast, Tamil Nadu, helping the British mercantile traders there. The East india Company got a piece of land at Chennapatnam and founded Fort St. George in 1644.  In 1710, the boatmen community   settled near Fort St. George  and served the East India company. Their job was to  help  naval and cargo ships reach the dock and bring in the cargo. Over a period of time, they not only became prosperous but also Christian coverts. The chapel was built to take care of their religious obligations. The land comprising 720 acres  was allotted in 1799 to them by the Marine board secretary for their residential needs as they made the boatmen move out the Chapauk area.  With funds raised by them and support from the Marine Board, the boatmen built a Gothic styled church St. Peter's  in 1829 and was consecrated in the same year by Bishop of Mylapore  Dom Manuel de Ave Maria  Upon consecration, its keys  to the church were delivered to the headmen of the community. Rev.Fr. Anthonis Martin de Silva  was appointed as the Vicar. 
Royapuram, Chennai (madras)
old map Ft. St.George, black/white towns, Madras. Dentista!!! -pWordPress.com6
 The decision to appoint a man from Irish mission as Vicar in the place of Rev. Fr. Antonius Martin de Silva became a controversy and split the Mudaliar groups.  Arch diocese of Mylapore was controlling the religious administration of the church. 

Unfortunately,  with regard to  Christian  tradition and denomination to be followed in the new church, there was  neither  a general consensus nor  unity among the Gurukula Vamsha Varnakula Mudaliars  and Arch diocese.  One group wanted to support the Irish Mission and the other preferred  Goan mission. The control of church's money went to the government as there was some dispute over the collection of money on a regular basis from boat owners and boat operators to main the church. The simmering differences between two factions  continued unabated from 1860s till early 1900s with court cases, appeals, etc.  During 1848, the fighting became so bad that  the Goan mission  supporters built St. Antony's church  just right across  the St. Peter's Church with proper compound walls.

 It is a matter of great regret and condemnation that a place of worship and veneration has become a bone of contention and the matter remained unsolved for a pretty longtime, not in the least caring about the divinity of the place in dispute. Neither the Mudaliars, builders of the church nor the Arch diocese of Mylapore  who wielded  power in the religious matters of the church wanted to make a compromise and settle the dispute amicably. This unsolved issue resulted in the closure of this church for 14 long years from  1935-49. St. Peters Church was originally under the dominions of the Cathedral and later changed hands to Petite Seminary School Fathers up to 1860. At last both parties again approached the court for acceptable legal remedy. It was  ruled by the High Court that the income from the shops and schools around the Church were given to the Archbishop for the management of church schools and orphanage, etc.. Then there was a higher appeal in the Supreme Court at Delhi, which affirmed the ruling  of the Madras High Court.

It was a tradition in the church to have only French priests, but in modern times, Tamil Christians, trained in Christian Theology, are allowed to conduct payer and masses. The Church is  being administered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madras and Mylapore.,_Royapuram

93---Royapuram---St-PeterSt Peter’s Church(Estd: 1829)18A, West Mada Church StreetRoyapuram, Chennai –