Sacred Heart of Jesus Church (Idaikattur Church), Idaikattur, Sivaganga
The Sacred Heart Church is an ancient church built in Gothic architectural style situated at Idaikattur, in Sivagangai District of Tamilnadu. It is about 36 km from Madurai and in close proximity to the National Highway leading to Rameshwaram from Madurai. This unique church of the sacred heart of Jesus was built in 1894 AD by a French missionary Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ.
This is a replica of the Rheims Cathedral in France. Since the church was said to be built by angels, Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ has placed 153 depictions of angels in and around the church. He has depicted the relics of forty saints in four elliptical shaped wooden bowls, which rest over the wooden heart in the main altar portion.
Idaikattur Church was built in 1894 AD by a French missionary, Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ and has an interesting history, steeped in legend. This is a replica of the Rheims Cathedral in France. The Idaikattur parish, which came into existence in 1866, is now in the diocese of Sivagangai, Tamilnadu. At that time, the church was a modest thatched structure. In 1866, when Fr.Ferdinand Celle, a French priest assumed charge as its parish priest, he decided to build a bigger and proper church in place of the thatched structure. The local poor farmers were unable to provide funds for the construction of a church. Under this situation the parish priest Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ went to his native country France to collect funds for his dream project.
Meanwhile in France, a French Anglican lady by name Mary Anne was suffering from severe heart ailment. She met three Roman Catholic ladies who advised Mary Anne to have Novena prayer for the sacred heart of Jesus for nine days. When doctors abandon a patient, God's grace is the only source for curing if the patient completely believes in him. With this conviction and confidence she had novena prayer to the sacred heart of Jesus. After five days of prayer she got completely cured. Immediately to show her gratitude to the sacred heart of Jesus Mary Anne wanted to build a church.
When Mary Anne came to know about the arrival of Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ in France she requested him to build a church to the sacred heart of Jesus in his parish Idaikattur in south India with a donation of 2000 francs. This is to express her gratitude to the sacred heart of Jesus and it should be exactly like the Rheims cathedral in France. Father accepted her request with great joy and agreed to build a church in Idaikattur.
As per the plan of the church, Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ marked the ground to carry out the construction work for foundation. At the start of this work a dispute arose between the Father and the village Hindus. By mistake the Priest had encroached the land of Hindus 10 X 150 feet for the construction of the northern side of the building. When this was brought to the notice of the Priest, he told them that it was his mistake committed unknowingly and he was ready to pay the cost for the encroached land and continued saying, "I am unable to change the structure of the building plan as it is very apt and cannot be changed."
But the villagers refused to donate the land since the kings of this region donated it to them. Soon the villagers got irritated and filed a suit against the priest in the court of law. The Priest too hired an advocate to contest in the court. The lawyer met the Priest and told that the records are favourable to the villagers and the priest did not have any records. So the lawyer advised the Priest to tell a lie that the disputed land was in the position of the church for the past twenty-six years so that the judge may give enjoyment rights in favour of the father. But the Priest refused to tell the lie saying that he was constructing the church for the Lord Jesus. Let his will be done. Hearing these words from the Priest the advocate refused to contest the case and quitted as he was not willing to be defeated.
The civil case was prolonged for years. Then a new judge came and arranged a commission of advocates to inspect the site in question and to study the problem by comparing the cost of construction over the site occupied and cost of land occupied by Priest. The leader of the commission had a dream on the previous night of his arrival at Idaikattur. In his dreams he found a big building being built by hundreds of angels in full swing. The bricks, tiles and other materials were heaped nearby.
The next day of his dream the leader of the commission reached Idaikattur. When he looked at the church, he astonished because that was the same building that he saw in the dream. The leader met the father and explained his dream and asked him to continue his work since it was chosen by God himself and constructed by Angels. Then the leader of the commission called the villagers and told them about the dream. He asked them to donate the place occupied for the construction of the church.
The villagers convened a meeting and discussed the problem. They too were convinced of God's presence in the place. Finally they passed a resolution unanimously to donate a space of 25 X 150 feet which is beyond the church limit. Then the Priest completed the work successfully. In fact, all the beautiful statues that adorn Idaikattur Church have been imported from France. Fr. Ferdinand Celle SJ has placed 153 depictions of angels in and around the church. The statues in the church are brought from France and it dates back to 110 years ago.
Idaikattur Church is an architectural marvel. It is distinctive with its French style of Gothic architecture and its high vaulted roof supported by columns with cantilevers. The windows are adorned with small brick pillars with hollow flower bricks and stained glass which illustrate the events of the way of the cross vividly and skillfully. And since the church is located in an area where the climate is tropical, the hollow bricks have been artfully used reduce the heat. The gothic arches are festooned with rows of beads, flowers, garlands which are fabricated from terracotta.
The stucco figures and the statues of saint, angels and the sacred heart of Jesus, his foster father St. Joseph and the Holy family statue with golden gilt and the mother of sorrows are of great beauty and symbol of ancient French art work. Historical events of the conversion given by St.John de Britto to Kattayadevan, son-in-law of Kilavan Sethupathi king from Hinduism to Christianity and St.Britto's sentence of death by King Kilavan Sethupathi are depicted in stained glass work on northern and southern entrance facade.
The main altar of the church is more beautiful with gigantic Gothic facade of 45 feet high with stucco figures of God the father holding his only crucified son Jesus by his hands and the holy spirit proceeding from his chest surrounded by angels in clouds and in the glittering gold rays of the sun around the whole work are relief from the wall. This main altar depicts the doctrine of the Christianity i.e., the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in one and the same clearly shown to all people who look at it. The Gothic arches are decorated with rows of beads, flowers, garlands. They all are in terracotta works.
Another unusual feature of the church is the statue of Sacred Heart Jesus Christ. Paintings and statues of Christ usually show his heart at the centre of the chest. At Idaikattur, the statue shows the heart on the left side of the chest. The Christ is highly embellished with golden crown and silk robes. It is believed that there are three statues with these above-mentioned features in the world.
To mark the dream in which angels built the church, Fr.Ferdinand Celle placed statues and paintings of 153 angels in and around the walls of the church. The number also symbolizes nine (1+5+3=9) choir angels. The church houses statues of St. Paul, St. Peter and other apostles, St. Ignatius and other saints, and guardian angels. It contains statues of Pieta (Mother of Sorrow) on the right side of the altar and the Holy Family and Mary as a child with her mother Anne on the left side. All the statues and paintings are brought from France and they are as old as the church.
Relics of 40 saints are contained in four wooden boxes kept on the altar. The tomb of Fr. Ferdinandus Celle stands on the right side of the altar. A 118-year-old ‘Monstrans for Eucharistic adoration’, brought from France resembles the front elevation of the church. Friday masses are popular. On the first Friday of every month mass and prayer service are held to mitigate all problems. On the second and third Fridays, services are held to address problems with children, marriage and health. Mass on the fourth Friday is dedicated to studies and employment. Holy mass is also arranged on prior request. The church plans to construct an exhibition room to display all donations made to the Lord, similar to the one at Velankanni Shrine.
Pascaa is a Festival that was celebrated by the Israel people in ancient days. Pascaa means crossing past. Here in Idaikattur, this festival is being celebrated for two days by the villagers on the next Friday and Saturday of the Good Friday, every year, for the past 139 years. In this event, the Life history of Jesus is staged as a drama, upto the death of Christ on the first day and upto the ascension on the second day.
The whole drama was scripted from Bible by a group of uneducated villagers, called "Annaviyar" and the dialogues are never changed for these 3 generations which coincide anywhere and anytime in the common life. Based on the ancient Tamil cultural dramas of Tamilnadu, this epic attracts tens of thousands of people from across the country. The lyrics of the songs of the drama which were penned by the same Annaviyar, composed with a mixture of western and classical music before 139 years, are proved as the best classical of the two centuries.
The artists, numbering to a 100, are all the natives of the village, inherit the ancient farmers of the village, who are in high positions of the society gather on this particular dates in the village from all over the world to submit themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Idaikattur. The whole programme is a citadel for all the villagers apart from their religion and community. The 139th year of Pascaa is scheduled on 1st and 2 nd of April, 2016. The proposal for the Guinness record is also submitted and it is on the process.
Idaikattur village is located in South India in Tamil Nadu state. It is at a distance of 37 kms towards the east of the temple city Madurai on the Madurai to Rameswaram national highway. On Madurai-Rameswaram NH between Madurai - Manamadurai lies ‘Muthanendal’ a non-descript small village. This is the place to slow down to a halt to reach Idaikattur.
A small sign board will inform you that ‘Idaikattur Shrine - 1km’ just a few paces before this point. It will help you to slow down. We have to take a 90 degree left turn just before the bus-stop and climb up to cross river Vaigai. The bridge is completely hidden as you approach the spot, so it is easy to miss it. Idaikattur is just a half kilometer after crossing the river.