Sunday, 9 December 2007

Day 7 & 8, Kannur, Cannanore, the great church hunt

Early burial ground with mainly Catholic Anglo Indian burials, but possibly also those of Protestants and Lutherians. It is thought that a Lutherian church existed for a while in the early 19th century, immediately to the south of this cemetry building.

Following the interview at the Fort, we decided to try to track down the church where we believed Thomas Baber had been buried following his death at Cannanore in August 1843.

This search turned out to be a bigger task than we had at first expected. This was because it turns out that there are at least five Christian churches and at least two large Christian grave yards in Kannur.

When asked at the Fort about the location of churches in Kannur, the tourist policeman, who was a most helpful and intelligent guy, who had demonstrated a keen interest in the fort under his care, told us confidently that the church was at "Barnacherry", a place not far away to the north east. It was he said, near the hospital.

As we had already seen this hospital on our way to the Fort, this appeared to be a relatively easy task. Assuming that the church would have a steeple or at the very least a tower we set off to the north west, on a steeple chase.

However when we got to where we thought Barnacherry was, there was no sign to be seen of a church, although there was an old dispensary and another very large and old, and most probably East India Company period building standing behind the concrete 1950's or 60's hospital block.

I wondered if this old building had been the garrison hospital in 1843, and had perhaps been where Thomas had died, perhaps brought here in his final illness.

We asked again at the hospital, and were directed yet further to the north up the plateau. The trouble was that when after several false hopes, we found that church, Holy Trinity, it was obviously much too modern, and was Catholic, which made it unlikely that this was the church where Thomas would have been buried.

This northern Catholic church would appear to be a modern replacement for the church described in Lieutenants Ward and Conner's "A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar." [1]

Ward and Conner wrote that the cantonment had had at least two churches in 1824,

"the church a modern building is situated N. of the Fort on a elevated plain, there is here also a Roman Catholic Church at the back of the Cantonment Bazar."

The church we found was a new one, built out of reinforced concrete. Asking at the Catholic Church if there were any more churches nearby, we were directed towards another one nearby, which however turned out to be a Syriac church, which was also too modern.

Evening was beginning to descend, with that startling suddenness which catches out people like me, used to our much longer dusks in northern latitudes. We decided to have one last try.

As we had come into town along the main road, we had seen a Church of South India graveyard on the Thalassery side of Kannur. Perhaps the church was also there. So braving the traffic once again, we stopped the car, and crossed the road and arrived at its overgrown gates. Sadly these were locked and the was wall so high, and the grass so long that we didn't really fancy our chances of finding any graves, without deploying an army of grass cutters. It also looked ideal habitat for snakes as well, judging by the pair of mongoose who scuttled away as I peered in.

A small building stood in sight in the middle of the graveyard. It was dated 1938, so that it was obviously all too modern, to be the one that we were looking for.

At this point a really nice elderly Indian man, pushing his bicycle came up to us, and asked in very halting English where we were from. Having explained this, and why we were searching around his neighbourhood, he became very interested, and most helpful. He told us that we were in completely the wrong place, and that the church was located much nearer to the fort, back where we had been earlier in the afternoon.

By now we were really tired and night was fast approaching. So we decided to call it a day, it was just not worth going any further.

This was a bit upsetting, but oddly enough it was Ramesh our driver who seemed to be the most upset. He had become really involved in the hunt, and seemed to take it as a personal disgrace that we had not found it.

On the following day and with a great deal of assistance from the detailed local knowledge provided by our unexpected host in Kannur, we found this church.

It turned out that the one I had been looking for did not in fact look like a church at all from a distance. We had been within a couple of hundred feet of it.

To the north of the Fort there is a large open area of rough ground, that has been the site of various buildings, on what was the glacis of the fort. The original fort had proved to be in defensible against early 19th century cannon with improved gun powder. The British appear to have built advanced works, possibly a Hornwork.

The outer edge of the beaten zone, was delineated by surviving buildings, and a cemetery. One of these buildings was the church we had been seeking.

St John's CSI Church turned out to be a Classical church in the Greek style. This in itself was very interesting, because we believed that it was quite possible that Thomas had played a significant part in it's construction.

Classical styled churches are quite rare in Britain and are confined to relatively few places and to a comparitively short building period between about 1635 when Inigo Jones first popularised the style by building St Paul's church at Covent Garden in London, and the Gothic Revival of the 1830's, when Medieval styles reasserted themselves. They Classical style had been a phenomenon of the "long 18th Century."

St Pauls, Covent Garden had been Thomas Baber's family church from 1652 to about 1720 and mauseoleum until about 1740, and so it is quite possible that this fact had influenced Thomas Baber.

The style was also proving popular with other Classically educated colonial officials, who were building many other Classical churches at this time between 1811 and 1820 across India and other colonies like Penang.

This interest in Classical building styles was a common theme amongst many young educated men at the head of the East India Company, and especially its civil servants at this period. As in so many things, Roman and Greek texts and artifacts were used for inspiration by East India officials like Thomas who had had a Classical education.

Sign outside the church.

Map from Google Earth marked up to show the locations of the churches in Kannur. Click on the map for a larger version.

[1] originally published in 1906 from a 1824 survey.

Copyright Nick Balmer 9th December 2007.

1 comment:

Kallivalli said...

Dear Nick,have you find the old and new burial grounds described in this old Maps?