Mumbai: 4-Century-Old Gilded Altar Steals The Spotlight At Marol's Saint John The Evangelist Church

Mumbai: 4-Century-Old Gilded Altar Steals The Spotlight At Marol's Saint John The Evangelist Church

The church finished its most recent round of repairs in November 2023, but the altar, restored carefully, gleams in its gilded glory.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Friday, January 12, 2024, 07:21 PM IST
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Mumbai: 4-Century-Old Gilded Altar Steals The Spotlight At Marol's Saint John the Evangelist Church | Manoj Ramakrishnan

At the newly renovated Saint John the Evangelist Church in Marol, Andheri, the centre of attraction, and also the focus of worship, is the three-piece four-centuries-old large gilded wooden altar, much older than the church itself.

History of the altar

When the 16th century Saint John the Baptist Church, whose ruins lie a few kilometres north of the Marol church, was abandoned in the 19th century after a plague, the altar was carted to its new home in Marol. The Marol church was reconstructed in the 1980s as the congregation grew in numbers, but the altar occupied its place as the centre of worship. The church finished its most recent round of repairs in November 2023, but the altar, restored carefully, gleams in its gilded glory.

The church interior

The church interior | Manoj Ramakrishnan

The central piece of the altar, which is over 15 feet in height, has an image of St John the Evangelist, the church's patron saint. The panels on the either side has statues of Saint Anthony and the Virgin Mary. Father Anthony Fernandes, the parish priest said that the altar is an example of 16th century Portuguese church architecture. "The church has been rebuilt but retained the altar. We are one of the few churches where the church building is new but the altar is old," said Fernandes.

The church and its legacy

The church also houses a statue of Our Lady of Amparo, which was saved when the church where it was located was flooded after the creation of Vihar Lake in the late 19th century.

The Saint John the Evangelist Church, Marol

The Saint John the Evangelist Church, Marol | Manoj Ramakrishnan

Church members, who now number around 10,000, are proud of their church's heritage. The area is home to East Indians, a community that traces its origins to the 16th century when Portuguese missionaries converted members of local castes like Agris, Kunbis, Kolis, and Bhandaris to Roman Catholicism.

"Many churches built in the early years of Portuguese rule had similar altars. Most of those altars have disappeared and this is one-of-a-kind in the city," said Godfrey Pimenta, a member of the church.

Vasai's Sequeira family and restoration of the altar

The altar, probably constructed out of the teak that grew in the area, was last restored in 1990 by the Sequeira family in Vasai who are master wood carvers. When the Marol church was repaired on November 2023, it got an insulated roof and power-saving fans. "But the altar just needed to be vacuum cleaned," said Father Harold Quadros, Assistant Priest at the church. 

Parish Priest Father Anthony Fernandes (centre), with Assistant Priests Father Harold Quadros (bearded man) and Father Suresh Thokala

Parish Priest Father Anthony Fernandes (centre), with Assistant Priests Father Harold Quadros (bearded man) and Father Suresh Thokala | Manoj Ramakrishnan

Ruins of the Saint John the Baptist Church still exists in the now entry-restricted SEEPZ (Santacruz Electronic Export Processing Zone). Christians are allowed entry on one Sunday in May for a religious service. There is a demand that the ruined church should be handed over to the local community for restoration and regular worship.

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